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Sunday, April 05, 2020

Is Vitamin D deficiency an urban myth?

How is it that till even a decade ago, we never heard of illnesses caused by Vitamin D deficiency? We can thank Boston University endocrinologist, Dr Michael Holick for this new awareness.

Written by Anjali Jha | New Delhi | Updated: August 31, 2018 11:15:00 am
Vitamin D, Dr Michael Holick Vitamin D research, Vitamin D supplements The Boston University endocrinologist, Dr Michael Holick is fairly responsible for creating a billion dollar vitamin D sales and testing market and giving volume to the supplements market. (Source: File Photo)

Chemist shop and pharmacies are flooded with Vitamin D supplements these days. Suddenly people are being told they aren’t getting enough sun. Just spending time outdoors won’t do. Their Vitamin D levels are plummeting. And something must be done. Now, while the benefits of Vitamin D may range from healthy bones to our hearts functioning better, do we really need to be so concerned about the levels of Vitamin D in our system?

The primary source of Vitamin D is the sun, which helps synthesise Vitamin D in our skin. This helps promote muscle and bone growth, lower blood pressure, ease fibromyalgia pain, and even slows the progression of multiple sclerosis. But how is it that till even a decade ago, we never heard of illnesses caused by Vitamin D deficiency?

We can thank Boston University endocrinologist, Dr Michael Holick for this new awareness. According to The New York Times reports, Dr Holick’s role in drafting national vitamin D guidelines, and the embrace of his message by mainstream doctors and wellness gurus helped push supplement sales to $936 million in 2017. A Kaiser Health News investigation for The New York Times found that Dr Holick used his prominent position in the medical community to promote practices that financially benefit corporations and got hundreds of thousands of dollars in return.

Speaking to Indian Express Online, Dr Joydeep Ghosh, consultant Internal Medicine at Fortis hospital Anandapur, said how these kinds of studies not only create panic in patients but also among doctors. “A few years back there were studies showing how Vitamin D can cure deadly diseases like cancer, but now we know it is not as important as it is projected”.

“In India, Vitamin D deficiency is common among people but as the tests cost around Rs 1200 to Rs 2500, we generally prescribe supplements based on our diagnosis. The testing started in 2014 in India, but it was only around 2016 and 2017 that the whole pharmaceutical business and testing equipment business started booming”, Dr Ghosh added.

Dr Sushila Kataria, director, Internal Medicine, Medanta corroborates the view on the testing arrangement in India, which makes it affordable only to those who belong to a high-income group. “In some places, Vitamin D is being supplemented even without knowing its status in an individual because testing labs are available in private health care centres and only limited number of well-off families can get themselves checked as a part of routine check-up”, she said.

“There are symptoms too of the deficiency, such as thinning or brittle bones, osteoporosis or frequent bone fracture, Anxiety or depression, exhaustion – even when you get enough sleep, decreased endurance, unexplained infertility”, says Dr Prasant Siingh, Medical Officer, Apollo Life, Gurgaon.

The bottom line is that like most vitamins, even Vitamin D isn’t harmful to the body. In fact, it’s beneficial to us to have a high-level of the vitamin. But it isn’t an essential nutrient for the body. Before pumping up on supplements, it’s best to get an actual Vitamin D test done, to check its level in your body. In the meantime, it might be best to spend some time outdoors. An apple a day and an hour in the sun might just keep the doctor away.

It’s not that Vitamin D is not an essential nutrient for the body but playing it as a marketing card is not what we expect the doctors to do.

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