The sight and smell of a glass of hot milk with a spoonful of sugar – a delight for some and distress for others. We have all grown up with our mothers emphasizing the importance of a glass of milk every morning to make our bones strong. And what followed that glass of milk? A run in the sun, giving our bodies all the vitamin D we needed to absorb the calcium from the milk. Nowadays, all milk cartons and milk supplement bottles advertise how they are fortified with vitamin D. Is this vitamin really that crucial for us? Turns out, it is.
Vitamin D is known to play various roles in our body. It is mainly involved with the management of bone and muscle function as it regulates the amount of calcium in our blood. To a certain extent, vitamin D is also associated with the immune system, which ensures that your body stays healthy and keeps you from falling ill.
However, despite being aware of the many uses of vitamin D in the body, a significant portion of the population in India is deficient in it. A recent study from West Bengal, in which about 200 middle-aged women were tested, showed that almost 71% of them had low levels of vitamin D. Another article published last year reviewed the vitamin D deficiency statistics in India, and found that up to 94% of our population may be affected!
Ouch! That hurt!
Low levels of vitamin D in the body can raise the risk of falls and bone fractures. Other than being linked to weak bones and muscles, vitamin D deficiency has also been associated with Parkinson’s disease, depression, autoimmune disorders, infectious diseases, heart-related problems, and diabetes. Having sufficient vitamin D in the body reduces your risk of being affected by any of these disorders. So yes, this vitamin is vital for the body.
Get your dose of sunshine
Vitamin D is primarily made in the skin of an individual when they are exposed to sunlight. It is finally processed in the liver and kidneys and sent to the fatty tissues and muscles for storage. Since vitamin D is a fat-soluble molecule, and the amount of fatty tissue is higher in people who are obese, there is a possibility that more vitamin D gets trapped in the fatty tissues instead of being functional in the body.
So that’s where all the vitamin D is hidden!
Studies tested the above theory by giving the same amount of sun exposure to individuals who were overweight as well as those who had normal weight. They found that overweight individuals had lower levels of vitamin D in their blood. Others confirmed this theory by giving an oral dose of vitamin D to both groups of individuals. Once again, the results were similar. Another recent study was able to prove the same point by performing biopsies on the fat and checking the levels of vitamin D in them.
From these studies, we glean that there seems to be a high probability that obesity does lead to vitamin D deficiency, although research is continually being done to further prove these points.
Should I be worried?
Although it has been observed that people who are overweight may have normal bone health, we don’t yet have clarity about the role of vitamin D in other deficiency-related conditions like Parkinson’s disease or autoimmune disorders. But what we do know is that vitamin D regulates multiple functions in our body. Research is being done to understand if vitamin D deficiency in overweight individuals could be harmful to other tissues and organs of the body as well. We also know that obesity is becoming a significant concern in our country. About 30% of our adult population is obese and with the numbers rising with every passing year.
So it’s best to start management early
There is always a way to manage your health. Talk to your doctor and nutritionist about what is best for your health. Then one of the things to do would be to incorporate physical exercise in your daily routine to keep the extra fat at bay. Preferably, do your physical activity before 10 am in open spaces like gardens or parks, to expose your skin to enough sunlight. Apart from this, try and include some yoghurt in your diet. Cheese could also be a good option for vegetarians. If you eat non-vegetarian food, including fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel in your diet might be a good option for you.
In a nutshell, a healthy lifestyle, enough nutrients, regular exercise, and staying fit will help take care of all your vitamin D needs.
- Pan T, Banerjee R, Dasgupta A, Paul B. Vitamin D status among women aged 40 years and above in a rural area of West Bengal: a community-based study. J Fam Prim Care. 2018 Nov;7(6):1263. doi: 10.4103/jfmpc.jfmpc_130_18.
- Aparna P, Muthathal S, Nongkynrih B, Gupta SK. Vitamin D deficiency in India. J Fam Prim Care. 2018 Mar;7(2):324. doi: 10.4103/jfmpc.jfmpc_78_18.
- Walsh JS, Bowles S, Evans, AL. Vitamin D and obesity. Curr Opin Endocrinol Diabetes Obes. 2017 Dec;24(6):389-394. doi: 10.1097/MED.0000000000000371.
- Carrelli A, Bucovsky M, Horst R, Cremers S, Zhang C, Bessler M, Schrope B, Evanko J, Blanco J, Silverberg SJ, Stein EM. Vitamin D storage in adipose tissue of obese and normal weight women. J Bone Miner Res. 2017 Feb;32(2):237-42. doi: 10.1002/jbmr.2979.
- Hamid Mehmood Z-T-N, Papandreou D. An updated mini review of vitamin d and obesity: adipogenesis and inflammation state. Open Access Maced J Med Sci. 2016 Sep 15;4(3):526-532. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.3889/oamjms.2016.103.
- Prakash RA, Mondal R. Prevalence of obesity in India: a systematic review. Diabetes Metab Syndr. 2019 Jan-Feb;13(1):318-321. doi: 10.1016/j.dsx.2018.08.032.