Basking in the glory of the
It’s nice to have a reality check once in a while, especially when it comes to one’s health. My client, Nafisa, 36, had one a few weeks ago. It started with muscle spasms around the waist and ended in a nasty catch in her lower back. It’s still healing and she has to be very careful.
Normally, she would have ignored it after taking a few painkillers, anti-inflammatory and physiotherapy sessions. But when her doctor asked her to get an x-ray of the lateral view of her lower back, she was alerted.
The x-ray revealed that her D3 and calcium levels were low. Although, she is always very particular about her diet, she realized that she hadn’t been regular with her calcium supplements over the past year. Now, she is on weekly D3 supplements and daily calcium tablets. This experience has taught her that one cannot take one’s body for granted.
Listen to your body
Many a times, we ignore pain and don’t listen to our bodies. Our body is constantly giving out signals. For instance, Shweta’s muscle spasms must have been the body signaling a calcium and vitamin D deficiency.
The other day, I bumped into one of my old acquaintances in the gym. She looked pale and in pain. She told me that she has had back pain for the past eight years. The low D3 and calcium levels were taken care of with supplements. She has also been through physiotherapy sessions but admitted that she hasn’t been regular with her physio exercises. With 40% pain still there, I advised her to visit her physio again and then continue with those exercises besides her regular workouts.
I have also come across many patients in the clinic who come for diet consultation with low calcium and D3 levels. A couple of my other clients too are guilty of the same. What is it about these two elements, which are abundant in food, especially calcium, but still deficient in humans? Vitamin D is made by our body in sunlight but why are we still lacking it?
Another common deficient vitamin is B12, especially in vegetarians. Surprising, considering we make it in our intestine! And the daily requirement is also not much, just 2.4 mcg.
The idea of blogging this is - I seriously want everyone, particularly women over 30, to keep a tab on their diet, particularly vitamin D and calcium intake. If you get a catch regularly, have muscle spasms and pain; get yourselves checked to rule out the deficiency.
When we talk about bone building, it’s always calcium and vitamin D that hog the limelight. There are other contributing minerals like phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, copper, manganese, boron, silicon and vitamins C, K, B-complex (B6, B9, and B12) at play.
I will be starting a series featuring the above mentioned elements for strengthening bones. The first is vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin.
Vitamin D (Cholecalciferol)
- The sunshine vitamin, our body can produce in sunlight
- Optimal time to get sunlight is 10 am - 4 pm when UV light which stimulates vitamin D production is at its greatest intensity
- Vitamin D has to be taken with calcium for the body to utilize it efficiently
- 50 per cent of adults and children worldwide are vitamin D deficient
- Our body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium from food to make bones and help us relax
- It also helps to absorb phosphorus
- Children need more for their growing bones and deficiency causes rickets
- In adults, the deficiency manifests as osteoporosis
- Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, so your body can store extra amounts of the vitamin
- Reserves of vitamin D are found in the liver, skin, brain and bones, for future use
Recommended Daily Intake (RDI)
19 -50 years: 5 mcg or 200 IU per day
51-70 years: 10 mcg or 400 IU per day
70+: 15 mcg or 600 IU per day
Although the body can make vitamin D, there are many reasons for its deficiency:
- Inability to convert vitamin D to D3, its active form. One of the factors is age
- Darker skin pigments and sunscreen use can significantly decrease the body’s ability to absorb the UV rays required to produce vitamin D
- A sunscreen with SPF 30 can reduce the body's ability to synthesize the vitamin by 95 per cent
- The skin also has to be directly exposed to the sunlight, not covered by clothing, in order to start vitamin D production.
- Even the angle at which sunrays hit the earth can affect absorption
- People who live in northern latitudes or areas of high pollution, work at night and stay home during the day or are homebound should consume extra vitamin D from food sources or supplements
- Infants who are exclusively breastfed are also at high risk of vitamin D deficiency, especially if they are dark-skinned or have minimal sun exposure
- Three ways to get Vitamin D: food, sunlight and supplements
- If you are not getting enough sunlight, you need to take supplements. But it is best to obtain any vitamin or mineral through natural sources first
- It is not the individual vitamin or mineral alone that make certain foods an important part of our diet, but the synergy of that food’s nutrients working together and allowing for greater absorption
- Take this vitamin supplement either with or after your meals in milk
- Best food sources -fish liver oil and fatty fish like salmon, swordfish, mackerel, tuna, halibut, herring and sardines
- Lesser amounts are available in beef liver, cheese, shiitake mushrooms and egg yolks
- Required for bone growth and calcium metabolism
- Absorption and deposition of calcium and phosphorus in bone and teeth
- Contributes towards bone repair by increasing calcium absorption
- Necessary for healthy functioning of the parathyroid glands, which regulate the calcium level in the blood
- Important role in prevention of dental caries
- Extremely beneficial in treatment of arthritis and tooth decay
- Reduces the risk of diabetes, cancer and autoimmune diseases
- Healthier skin
- Strengthens immunity
- Important during infancy and adolescence for the proper formation of teeth and bones
- Protects children against rickets
- Good supply during pregnancy benefits mother and ensures satisfactory future development of child
Some more detail
- Stronger bones - Without vitamin D, calcium is practically useless in making bones denser and stronger. Calcium and vitamin D work hand in hand in reducing your risk of osteoporosis
- Stronger muscles - Vitamin D deficiency can cause muscle weakness. The vitamin is necessary for skeletal muscles to contract and relax properly. It helps ward off degradation of protein in muscles
- Healthier skin – Along with vitamins C and E, it keeps your skin healthy, especially if you are suffering from inflammatory conditions of the skin like dermatitis, psoriasis, eczema, acne and dandruff
- Reduces diabetes symptoms - Regular vitamin D supplementation is known to help decrease Insulin Resistance and increase sensitivity to insulin. It is said to considerably reduce the risk of type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes
- Prevention of cancer - It helps in warding off various types of cancers, including prostate, breast and colon
- Decreased asthma severity - Vitamin D supplementation helps improve lung function and enhance the response of asthmatics to treatments
- Improved male reproductive health - Men with insufficient intake of vitamin D have lower sperm count and decreased sperm motility
- Healthier heart - Vitamin D deficiency is linked to cardiovascular disease
Look for these tell-tale signs
- Excessive head sweating is a common, early sign
- Brittle or soft bones
- Tooth decay, swelling, reddening and bleeding of gums
- Muscle and bone weakness
- Lack of vigour
- Premature ageing
- Insulin deficiency and insulin resistance
- Hypertension and chronic inflammation, major risk factors for heart diseases
- People who struggle with chronic pains often have inadequate vitamin D levels
- High blood pressure
- Fatigue, sleepiness and depression
- Mood swings
- Retarded growth in children
- Poor bone formation in children
- Development of type I diabetes in children
Large doses can be harmful, especially to people with heart trouble. Toxic amount seems to be 3,00,000 units or more daily
Signs of toxicity
- It causes elevated calcium levels, characterized by low appetite, dry mouth, increased thirst, headache, nausea, vomiting, weakness a metallic taste, vomiting, constipation, and diarrhea
- Leads to kidney stones
- Hardening of blood vessels and calcium deposits in the kidney, lungs, liver, stomach and heart
- Sunburned appearance progressing to a rough, scaly skin, burning sensation in the mouth and throat, constipation, diarrhea and gas
- Sore eyes
- Itching on skin
- Urgent and frequent need to urinate