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Vitamin D is an important vitamin that has effects on several systems throughout your body. Unlike other vitamins, vitamin D functions like a hormone, and every single cell in your body has a receptor for it.
You might be thinking now, Singapore is so sunny all year round, how can we be deficient in Vitamin D? The truth is that sun-protection behaviors such as use of sunscreen, staying in the shade or indoors, the wearing of long sleeves and using umbrellas are common practices here!
So let's learn more about what Vitamin D is used for in our body!
What is Vitamin D used for in the body?
1. Keeping bones strong: Having healthy bones protects you from various conditions, including rickets. Rickets is a disorder that causes children to have bones that are weak and soft. It is caused by a lack of vitamin D in the body. You need vitamin D so that calcium and phosphorus can be used to build bones. In adults, having soft bones is a condition called osteomalacia.
2. Absorbing calcium: Vitamin D, along with calcium, helps build bones and keep bones strong and healthy. Weak bones can lead to osteoporosis, the loss of bone density, which can lead to fractures. Vitamin D, once either taken orally or from sunshine exposure is then converted to an active form of the vitamin. It is that active form that promotes optimal absorption of calcium from your diet.
3. Working with parathyroid glands: The parathyroid glands work minute to minute to balance the calcium in the blood by communicating with the kidneys, gut and skeleton. When there is sufficient calcium in the diet and sufficient active Vitamin D, dietary calcium is absorbed and put to good use throughout the body. If calcium intake is insufficient, or vitamin D is low, the parathyroid glands will ‘borrow’ calcium from the skeleton in order to keep the blood calcium in the normal range.
4. Getting enough vitamin D may also play a role in helping to keep you healthy by protecting against the following conditions and possibly helping to treat them. These conditions can include:
- Infections and immune system disorders.
- Falls in older people.
Who is at risk of Vitamin D deficiency?
Vitamin D deficiency is very common. It’s estimated that about 1 billion people worldwide have low levels of the vitamin in their blood.
A recent local study in Singapore showed a vitamin D deficiency prevalence of 57.5% and vitamin D insufficiency of 34.5% in elderly patients admitted to hospital with hip fractures.
The following groups of people are at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency:
Elderly > 65
Darker skin pigmentation
People who habitually wear long sleeved clothing or stay in the shade
Exclusively breastfed infants
What are the consequences of Vitamin D deficiency?
Vitamin D deficiency can lead to a loss of bone density, which can contribute to osteoporosis and fractures.
Severe vitamin D deficiency can also lead to other diseases. In children, it can cause rickets. Rickets is a rare disease that causes the bones to become soft and bend.
In adults, severe vitamin D deficiency leads to osteomalacia. Osteomalacia causes weak bones, bone pain, and muscle weakness.
Researchers are studying vitamin D for its possible connections to several medical conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, and autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis.
So, Vitamin D is important, but how do I get enough Vitamin D?
To get an adequate amount of vitamin D, it is recommended to get sun exposure on their arms and legs for about five minutes to 30 minutes twice a week.
The best time to do so is between 10am and 3pm each day. However, the reality is, most of us don't get enough sun exposure.
You may have heard of vitamin D rich foods, such as egg yolks, fatty fish like salmon and even fortified dairy products.
However it is very difficult to get enough vitamin D from diet alone. The best way to get vitamin D is from sun exposure. However, do take note, excessive sun exposure can put you at risk of skin cancer too!
So how do I really get enough Vitamin D?
Firstly, we recommend that you get your existing Vitamin D levels checked first.
If you have normal levels of Vitamin D, then you are probably doing everything right, i.e. having enough sun exposure and probably having a good diet also.
However, if you are deficient in Vitamin D, we recommend starting Vitamin D supplementation. It depends on how low your Vitamin D levels are, and we recommend that you visit your Doctor to have a proper consultation on how to replace the Vitamin D levels!
Paddington Medical, as part of our health screening, offers checks on Vitamin D levels. So if you want to, click here to schedule an appointment with us to check your Vitamin D!
Singapore Medical Journal, http://www.smj.org.sg/article/vitamin-d-deficiency