One in two people has a deficiency in vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin – quite shocking when you think about the colossally increased sun exposure with global warming and ozone depletion. One would think there’s plenty and more vitamin D for everyone. However, urbanization, diet changes, and other elements of lifestyle (like staying indoors most of the time) are curbing the availability of this very important vitamin.
Vitamin D helps the body make use of calcium and phosphate reserves, maintaining bone and muscle health. Without adequate levels of it, children become more susceptible to rickets, while adults face risks of osteomalacia and osteoporosis. You can obtain vitamin D through your skin or your diet.
How Your Skin Makes Vitamin D
When UVB rays of the sun fall on your skin, a compound in the skin called provitamin D3 (the unusable form of vitamin D) undergoes two subsequent conversions in the liver and kidney to the active, usable form of vitamin D called calcitriol.
A hindrance at any step in this multi-step process will result in vitamin D deficiency, also called hypovitaminosis D.
Causes Of Vitamin D Deficiency
Sun-induced vitamin D synthesis in the skin is greatly influenced by season, time of day, latitude, altitude, air pollution, sunscreen use, lifestyle choices, skin pigmentation, and aging. How much vitamin D you obtain from sources other than your skin depends on whether or not you consume enough vitamin-D rich foods or supplements.
Let’s take a closer look at what can go wrong.
Hindered Production In The Skin
The low intensity of UVB striking our skin or skin intrinsically incapable of producing vitamin D are common problems plaguing our race and causing hypovitaminosis D. Sadly, these issues often go unrecognized.
Not Getting Enough Sunshine
Without UVB radiation from the sun, the skin is left incapacitated and cannot produce vitamin D. There are several possible obstacles between the sun and the skin. They may be self-inflicted like sunscreen, clothing, and walls or environmental like cloudy skies, fog, and air pollution. The following are common reasons why we may not be getting enough sunshine:
- Applying sunscreen: Sunscreens are designed to absorb UVB rays to prevent sunburn, aging, and skin cancer. While they expeditiously serve their purpose, they also deprive our skin of the UVB rays it needs to make vitamin D3.
- Wearing long garments: Covering yourself completely because of religious or societal norms, a personal preference, or your job will prevent the sun’s rays from reaching your skin. This will result in low levels of vitamin D.
- Staying indoors: With the advent of the corporate revolution and typical desk jobs, our daily dose of sunshine has been greatly compromised. Some of us, particularly older adults, are even personally inclined to stay indoors. This reflects poorly on our vitamin D levels.
- Living at higher latitudes: In cold climates of northern latitudes, i.e., in places far away from the equator, sunshine is shrouded by fog, clouds, mist, and falling snow. The skin does not receive enough UVB to be able to make enough vitamin D.
- Living at lower altitudes: The intensity of sunlight dwindles as sun rays travel through the atmosphere toward the surface of the earth. At low altitudes, such as the plains, sun rays get significantly diminished as they have to travel long distances to reach your skin This is why people living in the mountains or on hilltops have higher levels of vitamin D – more UVB to make more of the vitamin.
- Living in areas of high air pollution: Air pollution absorbs UVB rays, making them less available for the skin to use for vitamin D synthesis. If your city or town is affected by high levels of air pollution, you should get your vitamin D levels checked.