Have you ever considered basking in the sun just to expose your skin to sunlight for the body to get vitamin D? Perharps that’s the last thing many will do. And for those who happen to do so, it is probably because they want to break the monotony of staying indoors for long.
However, experts warn that if one doesn’t get the required vitamin D, they can develop some complications.
Some people meet their vitamin D requirements naturally when their skin is directly exposed to the sun, while others get it from foods (natural and fortified).
According to Rene Tabaro, a dietician and nutritionist at King Faisal Hospital, Kigali, in sub-tropical countries, including Rwanda, people are more likely to suffer from vitamin D deficiency. Therefore, supplements such as milk products and lipids are needed.
How important is vitamin D?
“Generally, sunlight is supposed to stimulate our skin to produce vitamin D. Vitamin D also aids the body in the absorption of calcium, magnesium and phosphate. These two minerals are essential in bone formation, again, it protects the body against microbial infection by stimulating the immune system,” says Tabaro.
Joseph Uwiragiye, a nutritionist at University Teaching Hospital of Kigali (CHUK) emphasises that everyone needs vitamin D throughout their entire life as it facilitates the absorption of calcium which, in turn, facilitates the solidification of the bones.
Vitamin D is also vital for pregnant women and children under the age of five, he adds.
“Besides the vitamin D found naturally in some foods, pregnant mothers should at least sunbathe three times a week to enhance the production of the required vitamin D,” Uwiragiye says.
For the new-born babies, at least 10 minutes of exposure to sunshine on their face, arms and back is ideal in order to facilitate their normal growth. The same should be done to patients with chronic diseases since some have high deficiency of vitamin D.
Uwiragiye, however, warns that too much of exposure to sunlight is also a risk factor for cancer, noting that one should use a sunscreen after a few minutes in the sun.
He cites some of the foods with vitamin D as; fatty fish such as tuna, salmon and mackerel; beef liver; cheese; egg yolks and all milk products.
Risks associated with vitamin D deficiency
According to a recent study by Mayo Clinic, when the level of vitamin D in the body is low, bones become thin, brittle or misshapen.
It further indicates that vitamin D appears to play a role in insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and immune function.
For Isaac Bikorimana, a nutritionist at Kibagabaga Hospital in Gasabo District, taking food supplements is not enough since vitamin D contained therein is still too low to correct the deficiency compared to that from sunlight.
He says having a dark coloured skin or living in places where there is unlimited sunshine are among the factors that may cut down on the amount of vitamin D one gets, which can lead to other complications.
“Patients with chronic diseases such as diabetics, cardiovascular problems, and digestive track problems are prone to deficiency of vitamin D since it’s difficult for their bodies to absorb the vitamin from food sources,” Bikorimana says.
“One is likely to suffer from osteoporosis (a condition where the bones become brittle and fragile from loss of tissue as a result of hormonal changes) in adults, while children can develop rickets,” he says.
Equally in children, the process of growth can be affected since they need such vitamin to boost their growth.
One may also suffer from cardiovascular diseases, as well as having low immunity in the body due to deficiency of vitamin D.
“Although it’s very rare for one to show symptoms of vitamin D deficiency in their body, the most common ones include joint and bone pains, tiredness or fatigue, and depression,” Bikorimana says.