Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin because our bodies create this important vitamin when the skin is exposed to the sun. The deficiency of this vitamin is becoming more common in cities all over the world. This is because many people spend most of their time living and working indoors and avoid the sun or use sunscreen because of the fear of skin cancer or damaging their complexion. Smog and pollution in cities can also block the sun’s rays. In a random study of people from Indian metro cities we found that 50% had vitamin D deficiency.
The importance of Vitamin D
Vitamin D is very important for calcium absorption. It also helps boost immunity by fortifying the white blood cells, which defend against bacteria. In addition, it has anti-inflammatory properties. A link has been made between influenza and vitamin D deficiency in countries which experience long winters with low levels of sunlight (source). Depression, mental health problems and Seasonal Affective Disorder have also been linked to low vitamin D levels in patients (Source). Other diseases which can be caused by a deficiency in Vitamin D include high blood pressure, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, excess fat accumulation around vital organs, different types of cancer, atherosclerosis (thickening of arteries), osteoporosis (deterioration of bone mass) and osteopenia (thinning of bones).
Getting Vitamin D naturally
There are two types of Vitamin D. Ergocalciferol (Vitamin D2) is found in a few foods like fatty fish. In some countries, fruit juices, milk or cereals are often fortified with this vitamin. Cholecalciferol (Vitamin D3) is what is produced by the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight. It is difficult to get enough Vitamin D through food sources. This is why sunshine is the best option. And it’s free!
The best way to get Vitamin D is from the sun. Spend 15 to 20 minutes a day in direct sunlight, 3 to 5 times a week. Do not wear sunscreen during this time as this will prevent your skin from absorbing the vitamin.
Taking vitamin D supplements can cause hypervitaminosis D, which can be dangerous. However, you can never get too much vitamin D from the sun.
Do avoid sunburn by limiting exposure. If you are eating plenty of raw fruits and vegetables, the anti-oxidants in these will help prevent sunburn and also reduce the risk of skin and other cancers.
Vitamin D is stored by the body. If you have enough stores you can get by on cloudy days without any problems. If you’re concerned that you may be Vitamin D deficient, and have symptoms like depression, chronic fatigue, weight loss and muscle ache get a test done to determine your level of Vitamin D. In places with long winters, or cloudy or smoggy weather, it’s very important to get Vitamin D levels checked. In case of deficiency, supplementation is required but even then levels should be checked to avoid over-dosage.
Testing for Vitamin D
A blood test can be done to check vitamin D3 levels. 15 to 50 ng/ml is the normal range. Less than 15 is too low. In this case, one should take supplements. Once the level reaches around 30+ sunlight will be the best source.
In India commercially available vitamin D3 is not vegan since it is usually made from lanolin fat from sheep’s wool. Vegan Vitamin D2 is made from vegan sources like yeast and mushrooms and has been available but there is some debate on the virtues of D2 over D3. Many say vitamin D3 is more easily used than vitamin D2. Luckily now some vegan Vitamin D3 is available in India. Please scroll down for information on this.
Supplementation can be oral or by injection. If the values are very low, injections may be best..
Some supplements available in India:
Oral: Calcirol made by Cadila Pharma or Caldikind sachet by Mankind. It is Vitamin D3, 60,000 IU granules in 1gram sachets.1 sachet can be taken orally at an interval of 1 – 4 weeks as required.
Injection: Injection Arachitol 6, 00,000 ( Six Lakh units)( per ml), Intra muscular ( IM), every fortnight for two months). Contains cholecalciferol. It is made by Solvay company. It is also available in 3,00,000 IU. ( Per ml) Rs. 87.00 for 6 vials.
Both are oil-based.
In India the following vegan Vitamin D3 supplements are available:
- Unived has launched a Natural Vegan D3 supplement. Each dropper contains 30 servings – for one month supplementation. Each serving offers 2500 I.U. Vegan D3 (as cholecalciferol) with 550mg of Extra Virgin Cold Pressed Organic Coconut Oil. The product is 100% natural with no synthetic ingredients. Shake well before use and take one squeeze daily at any time during the day. For more information about the product visit: http://unived.in/Products/D-veg-2500I-U-PlantBasedVitaminD3/19 or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com +91 22 28574455/2244 visit www.unived.in.
- 1 to 70 years of age: 600 to 1000 IU per day
- More than 70 years: 800 to 2000 IU per day
- 5000 IU per day for 9 weeks can be advised for deficiency.