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May 9, 2021

Over 90 per cent of Pakistanis suffer from moderate to severe Vitamin-D deficiency, webinar told

 
May 9, 2021

A webinar held on Friday under the theme of “Discovering new frontiers of Vitamin-D deficiency”, in collaboration with prestigious Horizon Pharmaceuticals, witnessed the participation of renowned medical specialists discussing the recent insights in the fight against Vitamin-D Deficiency and its impact on serious health issues such as the Covid-19 infection.

“Despite Pakistan being among the top countries in the world in terms of exposure to sunlight (the average sunlight in the country is an estimated 1,900-2,300 per square meter), more than 90 per cent of Pakistanis suffer from moderate to severe Vitamin-D deficiency due to lack of exposure to the sun on a daily basis,” said Dr Shobha Luxmi, assistant professor and head of the department of infectious diseases at the National Institute of Solid Organ & Tissue Transplant, Dow University of Health Science, Karachi.

“Prolonged indoor stays or in places away from sunlight, the use of shades on vehicle windshields, consuming junk food low in nutrient, menopause in women, kidney and liver diseases, epilepsy, drug abuse, sunscreen creams, dark skin complexion and obesity, all contribute to this deficiency,” she added.

Dr Shobha further explained that Vitamin-D deficiency in human is identified through various symptoms such as pain in the muscles and bones, especially in the lower back, chronic headaches and neck pain. Other psychological symptoms that signal deficiency include depression, fatigue, increased muscle aches, sleep disorders, poor attention and concentration, memory impairment, a feeling of fear, high irritability and sexual dysfunction.

Exposure to sunlight each day helps the human body to manufacture the required amount of Vitamin D, but most people avoid sun exposure due to the fear of developing skin cancer or premature ageing. To prevent Vitamin-D deficiency, one should spend 15 to 20 minutes daily in the sunlight with 40 per cent of the skin surface exposed. The recommended daily amount of Vitamin-D is 400 international units (IU) for children up to 12 months, 600 IU for ages 1 to 70, and 800 IU for ages over 70 years. Vitamin-D is generally considered safe when taken in appropriate doses.

Dr Shobha also discussed the anti-inflammatory and anti-coagulant role of Vitamin-D in fighting against viral infections, especially syncytial virus, influenza and coronaviruses and other non-respiratory viruses, such as HIV, hepatitis C virus and dengue virus.

“As the world is now experiencing its third wave of epidemic of Covid-19 infection, Vitamin-D, a natural immunomodulator hormone, has many mechanisms by which it reduces the risk of microbial infection and death, including physical barrier, cellular natural immunity, and adaptive immunity in Covid-19 victims,” she elaborated.

She highlighted that mean levels of Vitamin D in populations across approximately 40 countries have shown 50 per cent deficiency, especially amongst the care home residents (mostly the elderly). As the Covid-19 pandemic count continues to rise in many countries, especially in India (238,000 deaths as on May 6, the mortality rate-wise ranked 3rd), it is noteworthy that a substantial population of India (approximately 70 per cent) are Vitamin-D deficient.

Somewhat surprisingly, researchers have discovered a strong correlation between severe Vitamin-D deficiency and mortality rates in Covid-19. Hospitals and clinics in China, France, Germany, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, India, the United Kingdom and the United States have noted patients with lower levels of Vitamin-D had higher mortality rates than patients who were not deficient in Vitamin-D.

Patients in Norway, Finland and Sweden had higher Vitamin-D levels despite less sunlight exposure than Italy and Spain because supplementation and fortification of foods is more common in these Nordic countries.

She also explained how African, African-Caribbean or South Asian background and ethnic minority people – who have higher levels of melanin in the skin, which tends to reduce the creation of Vitamin-D from sunlight – have been disproportionately affected by the virus, including an overwhelming disparity among doctors.

She quoted the world’s top infectious disease expert as having said that he takes Vitamin-D supplements to keep his immune system healthy. Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, made the comments during an Instagram Live interview with Jennifer Garner.

She advised that older people and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, renal diseases and cancer should take preventive measures as they are more likely to develop Covid-19 infections.

It won’t prevent a patient from contracting Covid-19, but, according to large scale recent studies, it might cut the mortality rate of Covid-19 by half and significantly reduced the need for hospitalisation, intensive care and less Covid- related complications.

The danger, she explained, is when people suggest the Vitamin-D supplement is a miracle cure and should be substituted for vaccines, masks and social distancing.

Adeel Ahmed, the spokesperson for Horizon Pharmaceuticals, thanked participants and promised that they would start a nationwide campaign for the diagnosis of Vitamin-D deficiency and its appropriate solutions, especially targeting high risk population.

He suggested that Pakistanis must adopt the habit of using face mask, hand sanitization and social distancing, besides improving their Vitamin-D status as the Covid-19 ICU risk is 20-fold greater in the Vitamin-D deficient.