Vitamin D is our sunshine vitamin. The only vitamin our body makes itself from rays of the sun. It is called a fat soluble vitamin but in reality it is a hormone. It is vital for vibrant health as it plays key role in almost all our body functions. It is critical for our bone health as it balances the calcium and phosphorus levels in our body, strengthens our immune system, helps with proper functioning of muscles, supports our heart & mental health.
Deficiency is a major concern as research links it to
- Certain types of cancer– breast, colorectal, prostate and pancreatic
- Birth complications– associated with increased risk of pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes and pre term birth
- Most recently studies on hospitalised covid 19 patients identified vitamin D deficiency to increased severity and mortality
How do we know we are deficient in vitamin D?
Everyone should check their vitamin D levels regularly to prevent any major concerns. Some signs may be muscle weakness, achy joints and bones, fatigue, low mood
There are only 3 sources of vitamin D
Sun- 15-20 minutes exposure to sunlight on bare skin in mid day can be enough to meet our vitamin D requirements per day, but there are factors that impacts our ability to absorb such as location of the earth, skin exposure, colour of the skin (south asian more prone to deficiency due to darker skin) and age. Even though Bangladesh is a tropical country vitamin D deficiency is prevalent specially in children and female population.
Food- There are limited number of food that contain vitamin D, and are mostly insufficient to meet recommended daily needs. Oily fish- Pangaish, hilsa, salmon, carp. trout,
red meat, egg yolks and food fortified with vitamin D- milk, breakfast cereals, juice
Supplements- Supplements may not be needed if we have enough sun exposure but since Bangladesh has prevalent vitamin D deficiency among female and children, supplements are required. There are 2 kinds of supplements D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 (cholecalciferol). D3 is more effective in meeting requirements and D2 is suitable for vegetarians.
Since it is a fat soluble vitamin it is best absorbed when taken with healthy fats. Supplements should be taken with food. Individuals in obese category need to take a supplement as they are more susceptible to deficiency.
How much vitamin D do we need?
Most people between the age of 1 to 70 years need about 10-15 micrograms (400-600 IU) per day. It is considered enough and safe, but for people who are deficient the requirement tends to be higher. Babies from birth to 1 year need between 8.5-10 micrograms (340-400 IU) per day.
Toxicity is rare but may occur if high dose of supplement is taken over a long time. This can cause calcium buildups which may weaken bones.
Ms Tazreen Mallick (RD)
BSc Dietetics and Nutrition (UK)
Grid (National Kidney Foundation, USA)
Clinical Dietitian, National Kidney Foundation and Research Institute
Visiting Consultant, Praava Health