The Sunshine Vitamin
Is vitamin D deficiency a worldwide pandemic? Yes, it is. In most cases, the problem starts during the early stages of child development after birth. Severe lack of vitamin D in infants causes permanent alterations in growth of the kid, therefore, becoming a lifetime burden to either the kid or parents, or both. Fortunately, mother nature provides a natural source of vitamin D, which is the sun. Human exposure to sunlight offers the highest amount of vitamin D, which can be obtained by the body. Taking into account the significant importance of vitamin D, details of its functioning within the human body, possible causes of vitamin D deficiency, its consequences, and risk groups among people will be discussed in the paper.
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Forms of Vitamin D
According to Karras et al., vitamin D exists in two forms: vitamin D2 and vitamin D3 (3). Vitamin D2 is commonly found in mushrooms that are exposed to sunlight. Such mushrooms contain yeast sterol called ergosterol, which turns into vitamin D2 once subjected to UV irradiation. Unlike vitamin D2, vitamin D3 is made by human skin under the exposure to UVB light rays from the sun. Additionally, vitamin D3 can also be found in most fish species, especially the ones rich in oil, such as mackerel and salmon (Graff et al., 25). According to Hanieh et al., the lymphatic system normally absorbs vitamin D2 and ingestible vitamin D3 after their incorporation into chylomicrons, before they enter the venous blood (8). On the other hand, vitamin D3 that comes from natural sun, first undergoes two hydroxylation reactions in the liver and kidneys respectively. These reactions are required to transform the vitamin into its biologically active form, which contributes to calcium and phosphorus absorption in the intestines.
Causes of Vitamin D Deficiency
As mentioned earlier, the major source of vitamin D, especially in newborns, is the sun. Therefore, inadequate exposure to sunlight is one of the major and most common causes of vitamin deficiency. The second cause of vitamin D deficiency is naturally dark skin. To be more accurate, individuals with dark skin are less affected by the sun since their skin contains melanin, which absorbs the energy of ultraviolet light. As a result, synthesis of vitamin D occurs at the lower rate, as most energy of sunrays cannot be absorbed by the systems responsible for vitamin synthesis. Lastly, obesity also contributes significant to vitamin D deficiency, especially in adults (Almazroea 2). Overweight adults are often unable to absorb vitamin D3, which, as mentioned earlier, exists in oil-rich fish species. Obesity is brought about by poor feeding habits and lack of adequate body exercise. Therefore, to maximize absorption of vitamin D3 obtained through ingestion, maintaining a normal body mass is essential.
Consequences of Vitamin D Deficiency
Despite high vitamin D availability from natural sources, its deficiency in the human body can cause serious consequences. First and foremost, its lack in children causes retarded growth (Jawa et al., 4). To be more precise, adequate intake of vitamin D increases the level of calcium absorption by the body. Therefore, its absence leads to low levels of calcium intake, hence hindering bone generation and development, since calcium is one of the principal elements in bone formation and growth (Rizwan 359). In addition, the chances for a child characterized by vitamin D deficiency to suffer from rickets are very high. Secondly, Vitamin D deficiency in both adults and children increases the risk for bone fracture and muscle weaknesses (Berdila et al., 63). According to Krzywanski et al., the main reason for this issue is presence of vitamin D receptors on skeletal muscle cells (9). Under the absence of vitamin D, muscle tissue does not receive the appropriate nutrients, which leads to reduced body balance. The severe deficiency may cause pain in muscles and bone joints, hence subjecting an individual to excruciating aches and discomfort. Thirdly, low levels of Vitamin D in the body are associated with a number of fatal diseases, such as cancer, diabetes (insulin resistance), arthritis, and asthma (?ten et al., 95). For instance, (Mahmodnia et al., 46), the relationship between insulin resistant diabetes and vitamin D deficiency exists because the latter promotes calcium absorption and secretion of insulin.
Groups with Elevated Risk for Vitamin D Deficiency
The groups of individuals, who are at higher risks for Vitamin D deficiency, include newborns, elderly adults, women of the Muslim religion, dark-skinned individuals, and individuals suffering from fat malabsorption. Firstly, newborns, are at a higher risk, because they depend on their mothers milk, yet the human milk cannot meet the infants vitamin D requirements due to the rapid growth of bones and body development in newborns. However, levels of vitamin D present in human milk are related to the status of vitamin D in the mothers body. Therefore, parents with low level of vitamin D are more likely to have the affected children (Jalal, Sabeena and Khan, 45). Thus, such breastfeeding women are often supplemented with doses of vitamin D to ensure that their babies receive an adequate supply.
The second group experiencing elevated risks for vitamin D deficiency are elderly adults. During aging, the amount of vitamin D, which can be synthesized by the skins, gradually reduces (Jalal, Sabeena and Khan, 45). In addition, old people are more likely to spend a lot of time indoors and also have poor appetite (Boucher 314). Thus, the income of vitamin D with both food and sunlight is limited for them, and vitamin D supplements become important. The third group with elevated risks for suffering from vitamin D deficiency are married women of the Muslim religion, which can be explained from the perspective of their culture of covering the whole body, leaving only the eyes (Babelghaith, Salmeen, et al., 3114). According to Elshafie et al., such behavior creates a barrier for skin exposure to sunlight, which leads to low levels of vitamin D synthesis (745). Therefore, vitamin D deficiency develops mainly due to reduced exposure to sunlight rather than feeding habits.
The fourth group of susceptible individuals are black people. Dark skin is characterized by high levels of melanin, which reduces its ability to synthesize vitamin D during exposure to sunlight (Brand et al., 16). However, people with dark skin have reduced risks for sunburns and skin cancer due to higher melanin concentration and thus, better protective effects of the pigment. Black people can remedy their vitamin D deficiency by ensuring that they take a more extended period of sunlight exposure. The last group of individuals with elevated risks for vitamin D deficiency is represented by patients suffering from fat malabsorption, since vitamin D is known to be fat-soluble, hence requiring some dietary fat to be absorbed (Chandra et al., 180). As a result, they experience reduced levels of vitamin D absorption, which can be hardly remedied by using vitamin D supplements.
The number of people suffering from vitamin D deficiency worldwide is increasing every day and night. This challenge contributes to increase in the incidence of diseases associated with vitamin D deficiency, such as rickets, cancer, bone fracture, and many others. Therefore, it is important for every parent and individual to be educated about the importance of vitamin D in the body, be advised about sources of this nutrient, and risk factors for development of deficiency. Finally, more research should be done to address the challenges and increase the awareness on the importance of continuous checkup.
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