During my rotations in a Primary Health Care Centre in Abu Dhabi, it was noted that most of the women and children suffered from vitamin D deficiency. This prompted me to voice out on this issue in order to increase our awareness about this endemic ravaging our society.
The sun is a natural gift of God to man. The beautiful rays transcend beyond all boundaries, reaching every nook and cranny of the world. For years on end, people have been benefiting from the refreshing rays of the sun. In the rural areas, people use the sun rays as a means of drying their clothes and preserving their foods whereas, in the urban areas, people benefit from its tanning ability, and electricity generation. The sun light is also essential for the photosynthesis of vitamin D in the body. If the major source of this vitamin is the sun which is natural and free without any cost, why do we then suffer the deficiency?
History tells us that the Bedouin Arabs performed most of their activities outdoor, thereby absorbing most of the vitamin D needed by their body. In contrast, new generation of UAE women and children spend most of their time indoor, reducing their exposure to the sun light. This invariably increases their susceptibility to vitamin D deficiency since the sun is one of the major sources of this fat soluble vitamin. However, we can’t shy away from that fact that change in diet over the years has also contributed immensely to the deficiency of this vitamin.
Vitamin D is made in the skin when 7-dehydrocholesterol reacts with UVB ultraviolet light at wavelengths between 270–300 nm which are present in sunlight. Depending on the intensity of UVB rays and the minutes of exposure, equilibrium can develop in the skin, and vitamin D degrades as fast as it is generated.
The importance of Vitamin D can’t be overemphasized. It is essential to maintain skeletal calcium balance by promoting calcium absorption in the intestines, promoting bone resorption by increasing osteoclast number, maintaining calcium and phosphate levels for bone formation. It also allows proper functioning of parathyroid hormone to maintain serum calcium levels.
In women, it is essential to prevent osteoporosis and osteomalacia. It is also suggested that vitamin D is very important when it comes to cancer prevention in women; the types of cancers we’re referring to are breast cancer, bladder cancer, ovarian cancer and colon cancer.
In childen, Vitamin D plays an incredibly important role when it comes to growth and development. They usually complain of muscle cramps, difficulties in breathing and fragile bones (and skull) prone to fractures. Also if the child’s tooth are delaying and just won’t come out, the reason can be related to vitamin D deficiency. Ricket is one of the most common presentation in children with bowing of their legs.
Dr Al Shehhi, Head of Rheumatology at Al Qassimi Hospital, Sharjah, said that out of 1,000 patients evaluated in the hospital, only 8 patients have normal levels of vitamin D. This is alarming! Also, Lab tests at the Shaikh Khalifa Medical City (SKMC) have revealed that 65% of females and 60% of males in the UAE suffer from Vitamin D deficiency.
Therefore, to combat this menace, adequate health education is essential to increase the awareness of UAE residents on the importance of sun exposure and its adverse effects. Proper diets rich in vitamin D and dietary supplement could also go a long way in reducing the deficiency. They recommended an increase of daily oral intake of vitamin D to 800 IU for such women and 400 IU for children to ensure adequate vitamin D stores.
Prevention is better than cure!
Hidayat, Yetunde Ogunsola.
5th year M.B.B.S student. Gulf Medical University Ajman. U.A.E