As we go away from the equator, the sun gets weaker and the fight for Vitamin D in the human body gets more and more intense. Add to it the constant reminders to always be lathered in sunscreen and it gets worse. While you’re advised to wear sunscreen always to fight ageing, allergies and reduce the chances of skin cancer, where does it leave you in terms of your Vitamin D needs?
Now, there is no dietary source of the vitamin and sunlight is where we get it from. So, how do we balance it all out - protection from the sun while also getting its benefits?
Dr Gurinder Bedi, Director, Orthopedic and Spine Surgery at Fortis Vasant Kunj, emphasises on this predicament and adds:
No doubt absorption of Vitamin D is less in dark skinned people as compared to fairer skinned ones. Consequently, people in the Indian subcontinent are more likely to face problems of Vitamin D deficiency. Damage of the sun on fair skin is also more which is why applying sunscreen is a big thing in the West.Dr Gurinder Bedi
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Daily Vitamin D Requirements
Dr Monica Mahajan, Director, Department of Internal Medicine, Max Hospital, New Delhi, points out that the daily recommended intake of Vitamin D is 600 to 800 International Unit (IU) per day for an average adult. Both doctors recommend a daily, direct exposure to sunlight for 15-30 minutes.
It’s important to take direct, overhead sunlight. The recommended hours for this are 10-12 o’clock. Take it every day without interruption because the process of absorption after it’s been set in motion will take few minutes to be completed. The exposure should also be direct and uninterrupted by umbrellas or covering clothing.Dr Gurinder Bedi
Dr Mahajan agrees and adds:
“It’s ideal to get sun exposure in the morning or evening on a sunny day. Increase your frequency of sun exposure and take supplements. It’s also important to not take a shower immediately after sun exposure since Vitamin D synthesis is still continuing on the surface of the skin.”
Vitamin D Supplements: To Take or Not to Take?
As mentioned previously, the requirement for Vitamin D cannot be met with the diet. The sunlight, thus, needs backing in the form of supplements if you are deficient. However, it’s imperative to get yourself tested for the deficiency and then proceed only under the guidance of a doctor.
About 15-20 percent of the requirement can be taken care of by medical supplements, but the remaining 80 percent can be taken care of only by sunlight.Dr Gurinder Bedi
Thus, it’s important, the doctors emphasise, to not be overzealous about wearing sunscreens. Yes, they should be applied when stepping out, but it’s important to ensure your daily exposure to sunlight is being taken care of.
Excess sun exposure does not result in a very high incidence of skin cancer and the benefits of vitamin D far outweigh the risks involved.Dr Monica Mahajan
Preempting a Vitamin D Deficiency
Either it will be asymptomatic or lead to muscle ache in some cases.
Vitamin D deficiency may be asymptomatic or result in pain in bones and tenderness, muscle weakness, easy fractures on minimum injury or fall.Dr Monica Mahajan
The muscle ache might be diffused, not localised to a particular point in the body, says Dr Bedi. In addition to this, there might be weakness, fatigue and irritability.
It’s also important to take especial care of the growing body (children under the age of seven-eight) and the ageing body (those above the age of 60).
Dr Mahajan sums it up in the following manner:
The amount of vitamin D absorption varies from person to person. It would depend upon the amount of skin exposed to the sun, how fair or dark the skin is, the altitude at which we live and how far we are from the equator. Obesity, malabsorption, poor dietary intake of milk products and poultry worsen the situation.The absorption also significantly reduces with age.
Stock Up Vitamin D to Avoid the Following
The vitamin has multiple roles to play when it comes to targeting several problems of the body.
Vitamin D also has a role in cardiovascular health and immunity and deficiency makes us more prone to heart problems. There is a very high incidence of rickets, osteomalacia and osteoporosis in our country.Dr Monica Mahajan
The bottomline is to ensure regular sun exposure, but also protecting yourself from excess exposure, especially in the summer months. Additionally, it’s imperative to get yourself tested first before making any significant changes to your lifestyle.