Dilemma Of Low Vitamin-D: The Link Between Modern Indian Lifestyle And Our Colonial Hangover
Is it harder to get up in the morning these days? Do you feel lethargic during the day? Whether it’s consistent poor sleep or body ache, here’s why it might all be related to vitamin-D deficiency.
420 million Indians are at risk of exhaustion, depression and a range of diseases, including cancer, according to a 2022 release in science journal Nature. The reason? Vitamin-D deficiency. Another 2020 study published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine linked clinical depression with vitamin-D deficiency. It’s a deficiency that can affect mood, sleep, bone health and more, but not everyone is aware of its full implications.
And it’s not just adults who suffer from a severe deficiency; children are now becoming more vulnerable to a vitamin-D deficiency. Infants and toddlers are regularly asked to be supplemented with vitamin-D. A 2021 survey by the British Nutrition Foundation found that 49 per cent of people are not aware of the recommended amount of vitamin-D required, whereas another 2012 survey shows that 54 per cent of participants were unaware of the symptoms associated with vitamin-D deficiency.
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The Colonial History Of Vitamin-D Gaslighting
Indians are more susceptible to developing vitamin-D deficiency, and our colonial history might be one reason for it. When Britishers, along with other Europeans, came to settle in our country, they brought their health ailments along with them.
As Europeans were treated ‘superiorly’ in India and other colonised countries, it became natural to aspire to them in every way, and this included physical characteristics too. Being fairer was linked to spending more time indoors, which only a limited few (the elite) could do. Even today, our aversion to sunlight is derived from a need to be as fair as possible, and current Indian beauty standards are a direct reflection of that.
While our society was initially built around group activities that were done under the sun (such as making khadi before Independence), it gradually became a class issue as we gained Independence. Having the liberty to stay indoors, and be fairer was a privilege only a select few could have.
Despite living in a country with such abundant sunlight (just look at the heatwaves each year), you would think that vitamin-D is the last thing people need to worry about. But an obsession with being fair-skinned and the general bad perception about being out in the sunlight has led to far more people suffering from low vitamin-D than they should.
The main reasons behind our inherent vitamin-D deficiency today do stem from increased skin pigmentation and predominantly vegetarian diet as well. Not consuming vitamin-D as a supplement also aggravates this problem.
Lifestyle and societal standards (like being fair) today are the primary perpetrators behind a growing vitamin-D deficiency in people.
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What Does A Vitamin-D Deficiency Mean?
From maintaining a balance between calcium and phosphorus to affecting our growth, vitamin-D is the star performer that’s rarely given credit. A deficiency in vitamin-D definitely doesn’t bode well for your bones, with conditions like osteoporosis becoming more likely.
If you’re getting prone to the occasional flu or constantly just feel sick, it might be another sign that your vitamin-D levels are not where they should be. Constant fatigue and poor sleep patterns or problems also point to low levels of vitamin-D. Losing more hair than normal? That could be because of vitamin-D too. Experiencing more muscle pain, sudden weight gain, feeling anxious or depressed, and back pain are other unexpected consequences of dealing with a vitamin-D deficiency.
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Is Sunlight Enough To Get Vitamin D?
And it’s not just our physiology or society that’s made us more prone to low levels of vitamin-D. Countries like India, which are grappling with high levels of atmospheric pollution, are more likely to have residents that are suffering from vitamin-D deficiency. The atmospheric pollution makes it harder for people to absorb vitamin-D from the sun naturally. Not only that, indoor living has become a way of life now, significantly since COVID-19, and it has definitely impacted our vitamin-D levels too.
Absorption level for vitamin-D also differs between genders. A 2022 Cambridge study also reveals that as women have more body fat than men, it results in a greater ability to store vitamin-D from skin synthesis. It’s also the reason why men have more fluctuation in their vitamin-D levels compared to women as they grow older.
For kids, the problem is a new one, albeit one that needs a lot of attention. Unlike adults, kids are at their growing stage, and a deficiency can derail their growth completely. It can also risk their immune system, and sun exposure is crucial to prevent it from happening. Children can also become vulnerable to diseases like rickets and osteomalacia which are both caused by prolonged vitamin-D deficiency. But smartphones and technology have made kids less excited to be out, and as a consequence, they are prone to low levels of vitamin-D.
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Fulfilling Vitamin-D Needs
Depending on which expert you’re talking to, everyone will have a different opinion on the best way and time to absorb vitamin-D.
Studies on taking vitamin-D at a particular time (as a supplement) have not received conclusive results. Taking it at a time most optimal to your daily routine would be best. But it’s best to be aware that vitamin-D is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means pairing it with other high-fat foods or a meal is crucial for its absorption into your bloodstream. An optimal intake of vitamin-k, magnesium, and zinc in your diet is essential to maintain vitamin-D levels too. These nutrients are crucial because while vitamin-D improves calcium absorption, vitamin-K actually ensures that the calcium goes towards calcification of bones. Zinc and vitamin-D are cofactors, meaning that they work together to enable communication and absorption. Magnesium is needed to move vitamin-D in the body and to activate it.
There are only some foods that contain vitamin-D, and to get the optimal amount from them, you would have to consume them every day. Options include fatty fish, yoghurt, fortified cereals and beverages (including milk), and egg yolks. Another aspect to think about is sunscreen. While everyone knows that protecting your skin is important, it also reduces vitamin-D production by up to 99 per cent.
Stress also plays a huge role in the absorption of vitamin-D, mainly in your intestine. Stress and anxiety can lead to an irritable intestine and prevent vitamin-D from getting absorbed properly, according to a 2021 study released in the medical journal Clinics (Sao Paolo).
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The Modern-Day Dilemma Of Vitamin-D
The plight of vitamin-D deficiency is greater today than ever. It might be more correct to term it as an ‘epidemic’ that has far-reaching consequences that most people are not aware of. It’s about time that we stop underplaying the importance of vitamin-D deficiency and get the treatment required to live happier, and more energetic lives.
People living in cities are more vulnerable, as pollution can decrease their chance to absorb vitamin-D naturally. If you can’t manage to get vitamin-D from natural sources, you must consume supplements after consulting with a medical expert.