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13 January 2012

Vitamin D - The Unique "Sunshine" Vitamin

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By Dr. Vivek Sharma

"The sun is the orchestra leader for the dance of life. Every living thing on earth vibrates to the energy of the sun, including people. For a long time people have been victims of a huge scam that made them think they were supposed to hide indoors or under a blanket of sunscreen while the rest of life basked in the glory of the sun. Now they are catching on that they too need the sun's life-giving force." ~ Barbara Minton, natural health editor.

Vitamin D is truly the "sunshine" vitamin! The most natural source of this vitamin is sunshine. When the sun's ultraviolet rays reach our skin, they trigger our body's production of vitamin D. Individuals with adequate exposure to sunlight do not require any dietary supplements.

Sources of Vitamin D

A. The SUN! The major source of Vitamin D for most humans is from the skin's exposure to the ultraviolet B (UVB) rays of sunlight. Sunlight contributes on average over 90% of our Vitamin D!

B. Food Sources. Only a few food sources naturally contain appreciable sources of Vitamin D3 that have an impact on dietary intake: fish, fish liver, fish liver oils, fatty fish, mushrooms, egg yolks and beef liver. Mushrooms are the only vegan source of Vitamin D. Fish liver oils, such as cod liver oil, appear to have the greatest concentration of Vitamin D. Fish should be consumed that live only in uncontaminated waters.

C. Vitamin D Supplements. Vitamin D supplements in different dosages are widely and inexpensively available.

What happens in Vitamin D deficiency?

• Bone pain or tenderness in Arms, Legs, Pelvis, Spine, Dental deformities (Delayed formation of teeth, Defects in the structure of teeth; holes in enamel, Increased cavities in the teeth (dental caries), Impaired growth, Increased bone fractures, Muscle cramps & Muscle strain, Decreased muscle tone (loss of muscle strength), Short stature, Skeletal deformities, Asymmetrical or odd-shaped skull, Bowlegs & knock knees, Bumps in the ribcage, Breastbone pushed forward (pigeon like chest), Pelvic deformities, Spine deformities (spine curves abnormally), Dumbell shaped wrist, Very low calcium levels, causing hypocalcemic fits particularly in new born period and again during the phase of rapid growth in adolescence.

Vitamin D deficiency is also connected with cardiovascular health, multiple sclerosis, brain development in the fetus during pregnancy, increase risk of schizophrenia, poor immune function and chronic disease risk, later in life and soon after birth.

Factors Impacting Skin Vitamin D Synthesis (Risk factors)

• Decrease Vitamin D Synthesis – 7-dehydrocholesterol content in the skin is a primary factor in the occurrence of Vitamin D synthesis.

• Diet – A Diet low in Calcium, Phosphorus and Vitamin-D, e.g. exclusively breast feeding into late infancy or, rarely, toddlers on supervised 'dairy free' diets.
– Macrobiotic, strictly vegetarian diet
– High phytic acid diet – e.g. chapattis.

• Skin Tone, Pigmentation – Lighter skin tones have greater capacity to synthesize Vitamin D and require less UVB rays exposure to produce adequate levels of Vitamin D. Darkly pigmented skin isn't as efficient at inducing Vitamin D synthesis.

• Sun Avoidance, Sunscreen and Clothing – Correct application of sunscreen, which blocks UV rays, reduces the skins Vitamin D production by over 90%. Sun avoidance (as in staying indoors) and clothing and hats can significantly reduce sun induced Vitamin D production.

• Solar Zenith Angle, a function of Latitude, Season and Time of Day – Before solar UV rays can initiate Vitamin D synthesis in the skin it must traverse the atmosphere. The main determinant of available UV rays is the angle of the sun. The more directly overhead the position of the sun the more UV rays are available to for Vitamin D synthesis. Latitude, season and time of day are the three factors impacting available UV rays. The higher the latitude, the closer to winter season and the further from mid day, the less UVB rays are available for Vitamin D synthesis. Conversely, the closer to the equater, the summer season and mid day, the more UV rays are available. The more UV rays available, the less time in the sun is needed to meet vitamin D needs from synthesis.

• Atmospheric Conditions (cloud cover, altitude, air pollution and snow) – Cloud cover is a very important factor determining UV rays available for Vitamin D synthesis. Lower thicker clouds have the greatest ability to decrease available UVB rays. Heavy cloud cover can block 99% of UV rays from reaching the ground.

As higher altitudes result in shorter distances and less atmosphere for UVB rays to pass through, more UV rays are available to reach the skin for Vitamin D synthesis.

Airborne pollutants can significantly reduce available UV rays. Tall city buildings, narrow city streets, along with the move to indoor jobs have certainly decreased sun exposure amongst urban populations.

Snow can reflect 90% of UV rays radiation greatly increasing the available UV rays striking the skin.

• Obesity – Obese people generally have lower levels of Vitamin D and a slightly reduced rated of UV rays induced production of Vitamin D.

• Age – The capacity for Vitamin D synthesis is based upon the availability of 7-DHC in the skin. Aging generally reduces the content of 7-DHC in the skin and thus the potential for Vitamin D production.

• Chronic Diseases – Malabsorption (celiac disease, pancreatic insuffiency, cystic fibrosis, biliary obstruction), Chronic liver disease etc.

Dr. Vivek Sharma
• Decreased maternal vitamin D stores and exclsuive breastfeeding in new born.

• Certain Drugs such as rifampicin, isoniazid, anticonvulsants etc.

Panacea – Vitamin D deficiency is managed by taking a balance diet, correction of predisposing risk factors mentioned above, by administration of Vitamin D3 (Cholecalciferol), and of course the natural sunshine for a brighter life!

[Dr. Vivek Sharma is consultant Paediatrician based in Jaipur. He is Health Editor of IndianMuslimObserver.com. He can be contacted at drvivek_sharma@rediffmail.com]

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