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Vitamin D deficiency in Dubai
Despite enjoying virtually all-year-round sunshine, the UAE has one of the highest levels of vitamin D deficiency in the world, with one Dubai-based study indicating that 8 out of 10 people had insufficient levels.
The consequences of consistently low vitamin D levels can be serious; bones become soft and more brittle, increasing the risk of breaks. In very young children, it can restrict proper growth, and a severe and prolonged vitamin D deficiency could lead to rickets.
What is vitamin D?
It’s one of the most important vitamins. It helps the body absorb iron, calcium and zinc, as well as maintaining healthy immune, muscle and nervous systems. Research also suggests it could help prevent colon and breast cancer, and be used to treat high blood pressure.
What causes vitamin D deficiency?
The reasons for having low vitamin D levels are complex. There are certain illnesses that affect the body’s ability to naturally produce it, and kidney and liver disease both contribute to low vitamin D function.
Obesity is another consideration; people with a BMI over 30 often have lower levels. Worryingly, the Dubai Health Authority reports that 1 in 10 expatriates, and 2 in 10 Emiratis, are obese.
Our skin is a major source of vitamin D due to a process that’s triggered by exposure to sunlight. But if you have darker skin, you’re less able to naturally produce vitamin D. The same applies to older skin.
Simply not getting enough sun is another factor, but difficult to tackle in Dubai. The high temperatures often force people to jump from air conditioned house to car to office or shopping mall, spending little time under the sun’s intense rays. It’s especially difficult in the summer, when temperatures top 40°C and the humidity can reach 90 per cent.
What are the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency?
It’s difficult to diagnose a vitamin D deficiency without a blood test, but common complaints include body and bone pains, and unexplained fatigue.
Your doctor might consider a deficiency if you experience broken bones that didn’t result from a serious trauma, or if you are overweight or obese.
What is a healthy vitamin D intake?
As with most things related to health, moderation is key. Too high or too low vitamin D is unhealthy.
The recommended daily allowance for adults is 600 international units (IU) per day, rising to 800IU/day for over-70s. Few foods contain enough vitamin D to meet these requirements; a tablespoon of cod liver oil has 1,360IU, while an egg yolk has only 41IU.
How can I maintain or improve my vitamin D levels?
The easiest way is to ensure your diet includes foods rich in vitamin D.
Eat foods such as canned tuna, fresh salmon, and swordfish, and look out for food and drinks fortified with vitamin D. Fortunately, in Dubai fresh fish is plentiful and affordable at the fish markets along Dubai Creek and in Jumeirah.
Dubai is also often ahead of the curve when it comes to food trends, be it paleo, juicing or raw foods, but it’s important to always ask a doctor about your vitamin intake before embarking on any of these. Vegans, vegetarians and people with dairy allergies should also pay particular attention to their vitamin D intake.
Exposure to sunlight is also crucial but not without its risks. In Dubai it’s still possible to reap the sun’s benefits by venturing outdoors while staying in the shade. Even with cloud cover you’re likely to get some benefit.
If for whatever reason you’re not able to get enough through your diet or exposure to the sun, you should speak to your doctor about a vitamin D supplement.