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Vitamin D shortage sparks health alert

Raji Unnikrishnan
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MORE than half of Bahrain’s healthy population has a Vitamin D shortage, as do more than 90 per cent of patients on regular medication, according to an expert.

Studies since 2013 indicate only 20pc of the healthy population has optimum levels of Vitamin D, revealed King Abdullah City University Medical Centre consultant rheumatologist Dr Adal Bakri Hassan.

She also described as “dangerous” a trend of prescribing low doses of Vitamin D, saying concerns about toxicity levels were unfounded.

“Studies and research since 2013 show that more than 50pc of the healthy population in Bahrain are lacking in Vitamin D, while others have insufficient levels of the vitamin,” she told the GDN.

“Only around 20pc (of the healthy population) has optimum levels of the vitamin.

“Of those with diseases like sickle cell anemia or rheumatology, over 90pc are lacking in Vitamin D and the deficiency rate (of Vitamin D) is itself over 50pc.

“So all this shows they need Vitamin D as a maintenance dose, which should be a high dose taken daily.”

Dr Hassan is among those attending the first Bahrain Internal Medicine Conference at the Diplomat Radisson Blu Hotel, a three-day event that started on Thursday.

The conference is held by Arabian Gulf University (AGU) in partnership with Tamkeen and the private healthcare sector, gathering 40 speakers from across the globe to discuss the topic with over 200 participants.

“Doctors (in Bahrain and the region) are afraid to prescribe high doses of Vitamin D as there is a concern of toxicity, for which there is no evidence,” said Dr Hassan.

“The high dose is not dangerous, as our body will take enough and get rid of the rest.

“There is evidence from clinical trials showing high doses of Vitamin D do not lead to toxicity.

“Instead, it is important to prevent many diseases like hypertension, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and also has an anti-cancer effect.”

She urged doctors to rethink their reservations on advising patients to take Vitamin D.

“Vitamin D naturally comes from sunlight,” she said.

“Ten to 15 minutes of exposure to sun during summer will instil 10,000 international units of the vitamin in our body.

“If the theory of toxicity from high doses is correct, all those people who are working in the sun should have high toxicity.

“Toxicity is very rarely reported and doctors should change their approach on this, as natural diet is not enough.”

The GDN reported in 2015 that more than 90pc of Bahrain’s population is at risk from bone complications because of Vitamin D deficiency, despite almost year-round sunshine.

A survey of around 5,000 people, aged between 20 and 50, by Al Hilal Hospital, in Muharraq, found that 92.04pc of those tested had a Vitamin D deficiency – adding that less than one in 10 people were getting a sufficient amount.

“The (Vitamin D) deficiency is more in females and the obese,” said Dr Hassan.

“Among females, the higher deficiency is due to various factors including cultural and physical – like there is less chance for women to expose their full bodies to sunlight, which is the main source of the vitamin.

“In obese people, the vitamin gets trapped in the fat and circulation will be low.

“Sometimes drugs also interfere.

“There is a tendency among people to take Vitamin D deficiency lightly and they treat it just like a vitamin supplement.

“We need to understand that Vitamin D is not just a vitamin supplement, but it has other functions needed by almost all our body cells.

“They should know that it is more a medication than just a vitamin supplement.

“It is also a hormone needed for many body functions, like the cardio, respiratory, and neuro systems.”