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Low Vitamin D common
 among young Emiratis

“So, definitely outdoor activities such as cycling, swimming, running and exposing your body to the sun is important.”

By Asma Ali Zain / Khaleej Times / 24 Mar 2014

The study also found that food in the UAE was not fortified with Vitamin D though experts say that this is now changing.

Despite being in a sunny country in the UAE, studies show that more 70 per cent of the Emirati population have sub-optimal blood levels of Vitamin D that deem them deficient according to international criteria. The study found that most people liked to spend time indoors such as at malls rather than outdoors.

“This was true among males and females, though females were worse off,” said Dr Laila Abdel-Wareth, Consultant and Chair, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Shaikh Khalifa Medical City, Abu Dhabi.

She was speaking to Khaleej Times on the study titled “Vitamin D Deficiency and Sun Avoidance among University Students in Abu Dhabi’ ahead of the third International Conference on Vitamin D Deficiency that starts in the Capital today.

“The study also included western university professors who had good vitamin D levels because they go biking and spend time outdoors so the sun avoidance behaviour was not prevalent,” she said.

“What was astonishing was that we did this study with university students and vitamin D levels were low among them… this was disappointing because they are the young generation and should be out and about enjoying the sun,” she said.

She said that avoiding the sun does not help. “The study included a number of western university professors who had good levels of vitamin D levels because they go biking and spend time outdoors,” she explained.

“So, definitely outdoor activities such as cycling, swimming, running and exposing your body to the sun is important.”

Ensuring that you have the proper level of vitamin D levels requires more than just sun exposure, she said. “The vitamin D we lack from sun exposure needs to be replaced with the vitamin within our diet. If you were to rely on sun exposure alone, you would need substantial exposure to the sun, equivalent to 60 per cent of your body exposed to the sun for 20 minutes for your daily dose, which is not practical in this region,” explained the doctor.

Dr Laila said that fortifying food with vitamins was beginning to happen in the UAE. “We also realised that food here was not fortified with vitamin D when we did the study.

“But subsequent to that, we had discussions with food authorities and now I can see that more and more products are now fortified with vitamin D like milk and juices. This is great because authorities are paying attention to this problem and advising at least the local manufacturers to fortify the food.”

Current recommendation for normal adults is to have at least 800 units and up to 2,000 units of vitamin D a day.

A lack of the vitamin is becoming a growing concern because research has shown other benefits, said the doctor.

“Earlier, Vit D was just linked to bone health and calcium metabolism, equating to healthy bones. But what we realise now is that the vitamin has many more endocrine effects affecting other pathways including immune system and other endocrine systems like connections between deficiency and diabetes and so on,” said Dr Laila.

“So there’s growing interest in studying the vitamin and links with deficiency such as diabetes and immune system deregulation.”

A deficiency in the vitamin can affect the musculoskeletal system severely. “This can become a problem in children who can get rickets, which is very soft bones, leading to malformation.

“In adults, it leads to osteomalacia which is again very soft and brittle bones more susceptible to bone breaks. Bone health is most important but also it is associated with overall wellbeing, including (fewer bouts of) depression, glucose metabolism and immune system modulation.”

A simple blood test can show the extent of the deficiency in a person. “Symptoms are vague, people may feel bone or backache, especially women, but that’s a common problem. These are very unspecific symptoms,” she said.

“I would advise women feeling achy all over do a blood test — unless you’re taking supplements — and know you’re reaching vitamin D levels,” she advised.


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