Little Known Facts About More Sunlight And Dairy Will Not Help Indians With Vitamin D Deficiency – And Why They Matter

Dr Shashank Joshi doesn’t recommend sun exposure to his patients who have Vitamin D deficiency. Here’s why..

While it is estimated that around 90 % of Indians have vitamin D deficiency, there still isn’t adequate awareness about how to fight against it or about its signs and symptoms. These are 6 signs of vitamin D deficiency. We’re always left wondering about why Indians are so prone to vitamin D deficiency despite all the ample sunlight here.

Severe Vitamin D deficiency is one of the causes of the prevalence and spread of diseases in India such as rickets, osteoporosis, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer and also air borne diseases like tuberculosis. Dr Shashank Joshi, President of the Endocrine Society of India, busts two common myths surrounding this widespread health issue:

1. Sunbathing in the morning helps increase vitamin D levels:

Sunbathing at certain times of the day will in no way guarantee absorption of UVB radiation, which is a major source of vitamin D which is a fat-soluble vitamin that is stored in the body. This is because sun-induced vitamin D synthesis is mainly influenced by the season, time of the day, along with the latitude and altitude of the region you reside in. Other important factors that can interfere with Vitamin D absorption are air pollution, skin pigmentation, topical sunscreens, indirect sunlight and aging.

The main problem in India is that air pollution levels are so high that it filters out the useful UVB rays which impacts the production of vitamin D. Another factor working against Indians is that we have more melanin in our skin which acts as a natural sunscreen. This also limits the amount of UVB penetration.

While the ideal time for sunbathing to absorb some vitamin D is said to be from 9 am to 11 am in India, Dr Joshi says it might still not be enough to meet an average Indian’s requirements of vitamin D.  So far, no studies conducted in India have been able to establish the right time of the day or the duration of sun exposure required that will help us absorb sufficient amounts of vitamin D and fight against deficiency.

‘I don’t recommend sunbathing to my patients for increasing their vitamin D levels. It is far more effective to take supplements to meet your daily requirements,’ says Dr Joshi. However, despite this bad news, here’s why you still need sunlight exposure.

2. Increasing dairy intake will help:

Experts say that in India, dairy products which are widely consumer are rarely fortified with vitamin D. Fortification of staple food means adding essential vitamins and minerals like iron, vitamin A and D, folic acid, among other, after the food processing is complete. In fact, even in countries like the US and Canada, food fortification strategies with vitamin D have been only partially effective and have largely failed to attain vitamin D sufficiency [1]. Another reason for vitamin D deficiency among Indians is that most of us follow a strictly vegetarian diet. Here are the top 5 food sources of vitamin D.

Vitamin D supplements are the way to go

While adults need 2000 IU of vitamin D per day, children need 1000 IU/d. Doctors prescribe oral medicines or vitamin D satchets to meet these requirements and encourage their patients to make changes to their diet like adding more fish, mushrooms and eggs to increase their calcium intake.