A puzzling paradox: Why do people in the sunny South suffer from Vitamin D deficiency?

South India gets abundant sunshine but do you make use of it?
A puzzling paradox: Why do people in the sunny South suffer from Vitamin D deficiency?
A puzzling paradox: Why do people in the sunny South suffer from Vitamin D deficiency?
Written by:

Jaya Shravan

It’s winter in many parts of the country with the sun playing hide and seek. But that is not true of most parts in the South where sunshine is in abundance all through the year. And so, as a South Indian, you may never imagine that you might be suffering from a Vitamin D deficiency. Hello, it’s the sunshine vitamin after all! But you're in for a surprise. Many people from the South, even from a sunny city like Chennai, might have this deficiency due to various reasons.

Says Chennai-based Rajalakshmi, “I had severe mood swings, depression, joint pains and general lack of interest in everything. I actually went to a doctor because of neck pain and numbness in my fingers and through a blood test done for this, I was also diagnosed with low Vitamin D levels. And with the supplements given, the rest of my symptoms vanished.”

This is no isolated case either. Priyanka who grew up in the South and now lives in Malaysia, remembers the time she went to the dermatologist for acne issues in Delhi. A full blood workup later, she was diagnosed with low Vitamin- D levels. Adds Priyanka, “There’s probably a link between PCOD (which she has) and Vitamin D levels. The acne was triggered by that.”

For Bengaluru and Chennai-shuttling Sangita, the issue was depression: “My therapist had me do a full blood test and from the results, he concluded that the Vitamin-D deficiency was a contributing factor and gave me supplements.”

There are tonnes of similar stories out there. The symptoms manifest in a variety of ways – weakness, depression, lack of interest, dizziness, sluggishness, pains and aches in joints and other parts of the body, and mood swings. And the culprit seems to be common across all of these cases – Vitamin D deficiency.

Which begs the question: Why is this happening to people living in sunny cities? Like Chennai, Hyderabad or Thiruvananthapuram?

Dr. KL Govardhan, a general physician, explains: “The problem is not the amount of sun in any of these cities. It’s the amount of time people spend in the sun.”

He adds that these days, people step out from their air-conditioned rooms to their basement car park, and get right into their air conditioned cars which they drive to work and park as close to the building as possible, before heading into another air-conditioned space. “Where’s the actual exposure to the sun? I’d estimate most 20-50 year olds have some kind of Vitamin D deficiency, given the current lifestyle.”

Suddenly, it makes sense. We are all about avoiding the sun in the day time. We don’t want our kids to play outside either, thanks to the humidity, the pollution and other factors. Then there’s the whole fairness angle that Dr. Govardhan mentions: “Everyone wants to be fair. Ladies wear full sleeves or use those add-on sleeves to prevent tanning when they ride their bikes. What no one is realising is that this compromises the kind of sunlight they’re being exposed to. It’s of no use.”

So are there Vitamin-D rich foods? Says Dr. Govardhan, “Sunlight has the all important UV-B rays which is what gives you your daily dose of Vitamin D. You won’t get that by trying UV tanning and other things. It’s got to be natural. But some foods can help you absorb it better – fatty fish, dairy products, beef liver, cheese and egg yolks. But the best recommendation I have is to step out in the sun, preferably in the morning and get your daily dose right on your skin.”

Feel sluggish? It might not be a bad idea to get your Vitamin D levels checked!

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