Say hello to sunshine
Don't let being stuck at home affect your vitamin D levels. Experts explain how to get your daily dose of the sun.
Worshipping the sun, either through a morning prayer or with the help of the Suryanamaskar has been a ritual followed in India for thousands of years. In fact, not just in our country, the importance of the sun finds mention across continents and civilisations, be it ancient Egypt or among the Aztecs of Mexico. Apart from worshipping the sun, it is actually a good idea to do a good stretch under the morning sun. One of the main reasons why you need to expose your skin to the morning light is to activate vitamin D in your body.
"Vitamin D is a fat-soluble Vitamin which acts as a hormone and has three effects on our body. It increases calcium absorption from your gut. Food has calcium in variable amounts, but vitamin D helps increase the absorption. It prevents the excretion of calcium and phosphorous in the urine and increases the calcium level in blood," says Dr Girish Bhalerao, consultant orthopaedic and joint replacement surgeon, Wockhardt Hospital. But it is also essential for your bones which don't just provide the infrastructure on which your body stands, but are also storehouses of calcium. "For muscle to contract, including your heart, you need calcium. Bones store calcium and are essential for metabolism. Vitamin D helps push the excess calcium into the bone so our body's stores are full," Dr Bhalerao elaborates.
Take in some sun
Dr Girish Bhalerao
One might think that India being a tropical country, we have the luxury of ideal sunlight; so regardless of when we expose our skin to the sun, it will not cause harm. But don't take this for granted. "Forty days of lockdown will not instantly cause a major deficiency as it builds over the years, not days. But those with dietary deficiency, obesity, the elderly and Indians with darker skin tone are prone to deficiency. Some studies have found a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and mood swings, irritability, depression and anxiety," reveals Dr Manjusha Agarwal, consultant of internal medicine, Global Hospital Mumbai. So a bad lifestyle coupled with lack of sunlight can lead to a deficiency, especially due to the lack of exercise and staying indoors now. "Patients with vitamin D deficiency can suffer fatigue, low back pain, muscular pain and muscle cramps. Elderly people are prone to fractures. Children see recurrent chest infections. It can also lead to impaired blood sugar control," warns Dr Agarwal. In children, with severe deficiency, they may even start walking late, prefer to sit, and can develop bow legs, she adds. So, if you follow a poor lifestyle, chances are that being indoors for so long can start showing the symptoms of a deficiency.
Do it right
"Vitamin D is present in food but the major activator is sunlight. It is stored under the skin in the fatty layer, and sunlight activates vitamin D for it to perform its function. It is best to catch the rising sun every morning, which is rich in UVB. Especially elders and post-menopausal women should expose maximum skin to the sun. But do it before 10 to save your skin from hurt," advises Dr Bhalerao. He adds that when we finally go out after the lockdown, you will feel low on stamina and tired if your levels are low. Plus, our hot and humid climate means that we lose more electrolytes and sweat a lot, leading to joint pains when people go back to their previous routines.
Dr Manjusha Agarwal
Dairy products are a great source of vitamin D and so is non-vegetarian food, but Indian cooking methods destroy most of it. "For those who don't have a balcony or a terrace, they would have at least one window facing east or west. Fortunately, after the lockdown, clear skies and low pollution might make it relatively safer to soak up the evening sun too," says Dr Bhalerao. Vitamins are also taken as supplements, especially for menopausal women and older people. But one should not self-medicate. "Do a vitamin D course after consulting your doctor; the dosage depends on your history, height, weight, age and gender. Overdosage will result in hypertoxicity and result in aches. So, always consult your doctor before your next step," signs off Dr Bhalerao.
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