Vitamin D is one of the vitamins produced naturally by the body. This occurs when the body is exposed to an adequate amount of sunlight. However, unexpectedly, vitamin D deficiency is very common in sunny regions such as the Middle East because people wear large amounts of sunscreen, stay out of the sun for fear of being sunburned or wear clothes that cover the body, for either modesty or sun protection reasons.
Other reasons for vitamin D deficiency, especially amongst infants, children and elderly adults is inadequate vitamin D intake through food. Human breast milk contains low levels of vitamin D and most infant formulas do not contain adequate vitamin D. Elderly adults often do not consume enough vitamin D rich foods, and even when they do, absorption may be limited.
Certain diseases such as Crohn’s Disease, Coeliac Disease and Cystic Fibrosis can also affect the absorption of vitamin D, as can surgeries such as gastric bypass.
Vitamin D is essential for healthy, strong bones as it helps the body absorb calcium from the food we eat. You should aim for five to 30 minutes of unprotected sunlight exposure (dependent on your skin colouring) to your face, arms, back and legs, two or three times a week. After this length of exposure, however, you must apply sunscreen. Foods high in vitamin D include oily fish such as tuna and salmon or fortified foods such as breakfast cereals and milk. You can also take vitamin D supplements.
Dr Nizamuddin Gulsha MD MRCGP is a family medicine specialist at Mediclinic Mirdif. He has more than ten years experience as a general practitioner, emergency medicine physician and family medicine specialist in India, Saudi Arabia and Dubai. He joined Mediclinic Welcare Hospital as senior registrar, emergency medicine, in 2005. He worked at Mediclinic City Hospital as an emergency physician from 2008 and is a now a member of the team at Mediclinic Mirdif.