Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, is unique in humans as it is produced by the body in response to the skin being exposed to sunlight. It is also available naturally in some food sources, including some fish, fish liver oils, beef liver and egg yolks.
Why is Vitamin D important for the body?
Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium and phosphorus in our diet from the gut, which is essential for healthy and strong bones. It helps protects older adults from Osteoporosis. Adequate Vitamin D levels are important for the regulation of cell growth, nerve, muscle and immune function. In addition, Vitamin D may also help to prevent other diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
What causes low Vitamin D Levels?
Risk for low levels of Vitamin D can be associated with the following:
- Increased need for Vitamin D – Growing children, pregnant and breast-feeding women need extra Vitamin D as it is required for growth.
- Limited exposure to sunlight – People who stay indoors for most part of the day, who cover up a lot of their body or regularly wear sunscreens when outdoors; people with pigmented skin, as less sunshine gets through the skin.
- Not enough dietary Vitamin D – As most of the natural sources are animal-based, people who follow a strict vegetarian/vegan diet or non-fish-diet are more likely to have Vitamin D deficiency
- Obesity – Low Vitamin D levels is linked to obesity
- Some medical conditions, including Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and coeliac disease, can affect the way your body handles Vitamin D.
What are the symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency?
The symptoms may be subtle, or only vague ones such as tiredness or general aches. Many people have no symptoms at all and hence the problem is often missed. More severe Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults, a condition that results in weak and soft bones.
I live in sunny Singapore, surely I can’t have Vitamin D deficiency?
A recent study concluded that there is a high prevalence of Vitamin D deficiency in Singapore. This shows that living in a region with sunlight all year round does not guarantee for optimal Vitamin D status. If you spend a lot of time working in an office building or have a habit of generally avoiding the sunlight, you may be at risk of Vitamin D deficiency.
How is Vitamin D deficiency diagnosed?
A simple blood test for Vitamin D level can make the diagnoses.
Treatment of Vitamin D deficiency
The aim of treatment is to normalize Vitamin D levels through Vitamin D supplementation. The dosage and schedule of Vitamin D supplements depend on your health condition, age and severity of deficiency. Exposure to sunlight is not recommended due to the potential harmful effect of sun’s rays (skin cancer).
Speak to your doctor if you have any concerns or suspect that you may be at risk of Vitamin D deficiency.
Dr Peter Chiu is based at International Medical Clinic – Katong and Jelita Clinics. Dr Chiu was trained in Austria and speaks fluent German. Call: 6465 4440 to make an appointment.