Seema Singh

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From her perch in Bangalore as a Senior Editor at Forbes India, Seema usually writes about science and technology. She believes that while we may have settled into consuming the nicely packaged final products of science -- technology being a hand maiden of science -- we are distancing ourselves from all the effort that goes into it. This blog is an attempt to bring an occasional peek into those efforts and ideas.

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The little known secrets of Vitamin D

May 12, 2011

If you are a health freak and follow research breakthroughs, you probably already know the unraveling secrets of vitamin D.

Of late, its deficiency has been linked to several diseases -- skin cancers, worsening of breast tumors, cardiovascular diseases, etc, which are over and above the known conditions like rickets and osteoporosis.

A study says Vitamin D reduces inflammation associated with psoriasis. Photo by Bev Sykes

Now there’s fresh evidence that Vitamin D reduces the severity of a common skin condition called psoriasis, one that causes red, itchy patches on the skin and affects about two percent of the population anywhere. That makes about 24 million people in India alone.

In today’s issue of Science Translational Medicine, researchers report that their study showed Vitamin D reduced the inflammation associated with psoriasis. The findings will help doctors explain why Vitamin D therapies are successful for many skin conditions.

Psoriasis is an auto-immune disorder for which many doctors currently use Vitamin D and ultra violet rays (which activate vitamin D) therapy as treatment. In their work, researchers show how exactly Vitamin D counters the disease. But for now, I’d use this news to highlight another issue which is not very well known. That Indians in most part of the country suffer from Vitamin D deficiency.

Yes, in the land of plentiful sunshine (which makes this vitamin in the body), we suffer from Vitamin D deficiency. For a slightly more scientific explanation I’d direct you to my earlier story (here). In short, it’s right to say that people of both north and south India suffer from this deficiency, in many cases even poor bone health.

One big reason: lack of calcium in the diet. Vitamin D helps in the absorption of calcium in the body. Indian doctors who’ve studied this say in rural India, due to exposure to sun, Vitamin D levels are good in the body but calcium intake is poor; in urban India, due to better diet, calcium levels in the body are sufficient but Vitamin D level is poor. Blame it on long indoor hours (often under air conditioner) and inadequate exposure to sun.

For an update, I checked with Dr R Goswami of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi who strongly believes that given the unraveling of Vitamin D benefits, government should formulate a policy for Vitamin D fortification of food. His ongoing study (a double blinded trial on 200 people) intends to see what Vitamin D addition in the diet can do to the body.

The idea is to have enough ground data from Indian population to suggest if people can take over-the-counter Vitamin D supplements, just they as do for Vitamin E.

Until that data is peer-reviewed and made public, make sure you get enough sun!

PS: All ye urban dwellers, in case you are thinking what does rubbing of sunscreen do your Vitamin D formation, read this.

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