Do you avoid going out in the sun or cover yourself when you go out in the sun? If yes then, there are reasons you shouldn’t avoid the sun. This is because the sun helps in the formation of an important nutrient, vitamin D.
What is does vitamin D do in our body?
Vitamin D is formed in the body when ultraviolet radiation passes through the skin. Vitamin D is essential to our body as it plays a major role in –
- Increasing calcium absorption
- Maintaining normal calcium and phosphorus levels in the blood
- Building bones and teeth along with calcium
- Strengthening muscles
- Immune function
How do we know if we have adequate levels of vitamin D?
To know your vitamin D status, we can get our blood tested for a form of vitamin D called 25-hydroxy vitamin D.
Cut-offs for Vitamin D Status Assessment
|Classification||Levels of 25(OH)D3|
≥ 30 ng/mL or ≥ 75 nmol/L
|Insufficiency||20 – 30 ng/mL or 50 – 75 nmol/L|
|Deficiency||< 20 ng/mL or < 50 nmol/L|
Why should we be concerned?
India is a large tropical country that receives ample sunlight. This means most of us would have adequate vitamin D levels. Contrary to this belief, many of us suffer from vitamin D deficiency. There are many reasons for this. The production of vitamin D in our body depends on a variety of factors –
Proximity to the Equator – In regions closer to the equator, the vitamin D synthesis happens at a higher rate and occurs throughout the year.
Season – In the months of November to February, there is marked decrease (~ 80 -100% depending on the latitude) in the synthesis of vitamin D.
Environment & Lifestyle – Urban areas like Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru are quite crowded. Over the years, there has been an increase in the environmental air pollution owing to the increase in vehicular traffic. Every other person owns a two or a four wheeler. This rampant increase in air pollution hampers the vitamin D production.
Most of the urban areas in India are unfortunately not well planned. As a result, the buildings are cramped and do not receive adequate light or ventilation. Many housing colonies do not have sufficient play area for the children. There is absolute lack of playgrounds and gardens. In such a situation, where should our children play!
Over the last two decades, our lifestyle has become more and more sedentary. Our working hours have increased. Much of this work is desk job which happens indoors in AC environment. We no longer commute by using public transport. We have got used to travelling in AC vehicles where there is no scope for sun exposure. Even for the shortest possible distance, we tend to hire a vehicle or use our own one. Many people cover themselves completely especially while riding a two wheeler to protect themselves from the sun. Even, traditional customs of pardah (veil) that either covers the entire body or in part reduces the skin exposure to sun
Sunscreen – Everyone wants to look fair and tend to apply sunscreen to protect their skin from getting tanned. Topical application of sunscreen creams/lotions decreases the synthesis of vitamin D. A sunscreen with sun protection factor of 15 (SPF 15) absorbs 99% of the incident UVB radiation and decreases the synthesis of vitamin D by 99%.
Increasing age – As we grow older, our skin’s ability to produce vitamin D with the help of sun decreases.
Inadequate dietary intake – There are very limited food sources of vitamin D. Vitamin D is available in animal foods. If you are a vegetarian or do not consume the vitamin D-containing foods then, you are wholly dependent on the sun to produce vitamin D.
Repeated pregnancies – Vitamin D requirement increases during pregnancy. Repeated pregnancies with little spacing between two pregnancies depletes the vitamin D stores from the body.
What can happen due to vitamin D deficiency?
Vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of –
- Rickets (defective bone development in children)
- Osteomalacia (softening of the bones)
- High blood pressure
- Heart diseases
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
How do we get adequate amounts of vitamin D?
We can get only 10 – 20% of vitamin D from dietary sources like fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna), egg yolk or cod liver oil. However, this is difficult for many of us who are vegetarians. Even those of us who consume animal foods do not do so regularly. This leaves us with one option of exposure to sunlight.
You should expose your arms and legs to sunlight between 1000 hours and 1500 hours for 5 – 30 minutes in spring, summer and fall is necessary to prevent vitamin D deficiency. You can take a sunbath; i.e. deliberately expose your arms and legs to sun between the given timings for at least 30 minutes. Take care that you do not apply any sunscreen while taking sun bath. Also, be careful not to sun burn yourself.
For those of you, who are unable to spare time for sunbath, make sure that you expose parts of your arms and/or legs when you are out in the sun while carrying out your daily routine. This means that you need to be out in the sun between 1000 hours and 1500 hours for at least 30 minutes. You can do this by –
- Get down from your vehicle and take a 15 minute walk to your office
- Take a walk in the sun after your lunch. This can be a good exercise to you as well
- Make sure you do not use sunscreen before going out in the sun. For those of you who are worried about getting tanned in the sun, cleanse your face every night before going to bed. Remember, there is only one way of getting vitamin D but, there are several others available to get rid of the tan.
- Vitamin D supplements are also available. But, it would be wise, if you consult your doctor before taking any.
So get out in the sun & shine bright!!!!!!!!!!!