Vitamin D deficiency: problem runs bone-deep

As many as 80 per cent of urban population and 70 per cent of rural population of India suffer from vitamin D deficiency

By Meenakshi Sushma, Vibha Varshney
Published: Friday 13 April 2018
Vitamin D deficiency, which is taking shape of an epidemic, causes chronic muscle pain, spasms, low energy levels and depression. Credit: Pixabay

More than half of Delhi’s population is suffering from vitamin D deficiency, according to a recent survey by ASSOCHAM, the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India.  

An October 2017 to March 2018 survey by ASSOCHAM also showed that most of the people were not aware that they were suffering from the deficiency and that those between 21-35 years had maximum insufficiency of vitamin-D. 

Estimates by doctors and researchers show that as many as 80 per cent of urban population and 70 per cent of rural population of India is deficient in the sunshine vitamin in the country.

The report says that 88 per cent of Delhi’s population is suffering from vitamin D deficiency and eight out of 10 people are affected. As much as 85 per cent of the deficiency is due to non-exposure to sunlight and staying indoors for long hours during the day.

Recently, the Food Safety and Security Authority of India launched project Dhoop urging schools to shift their morning assembly to noon time, mainly between 11 am and 1 pm to ensure maximum absorption of vitamin D in students through natural sunlight.     

About 90 per cent of vitamin D, also known as calciferol, needed by a person is produced in the body. Skin exposure to ultraviolet (B) rays, converts provitamin D in the skin gets into previtamin D. It is isomerised by body heat to the precursor of vitamin D3, which is then transported to the liver through blood. Here, vitamin D3 gets converted into 25-hydroxy vitamin D and is sent to the kidneys where its active form calcitriol is formed.

Calcitriol is important for maintaining calcium balance in the body. It also functions as a hormone and regulates the concentration of calcium and phosphate in the blood. 

The recommended exposure time to obtain this UV dose depends on the skin type, time and location as well as ambient conditions and clothing. Studies carried out in developed countries show that a full body exposure to UVB radiation that results in pinkness of skin (one erythemal dose) is equal to an oral intake of 250–625μg (10,000–25,000 IU) of 25-hydroxy vitamin D. Exposing one-quarter of skin, for instance just hands, arms and face, to one erythemal dose of UVB rays can form dietary equivalent vitamin D dose of about 1,000 IU. However, no such calculation has been done for India, where the complexion of people varies from light to dark.

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