Most of us associate pain in the joints or back as a result of injury, postural problems or arthritic symptoms. However, prolonged or recurring pain in the bones, joints accompanied by fatigue is sometimes also indicative of severe vitamin D deficiency.
A nagging pain in the knee was troubling Anupama for almost six months. What she initially believed was a minor injury due to exercise became worrisome when it refused to abate even after a month of rest and calcium supplements. A blood test then revealed severe deficiency of Vitamin D which the doctor concluded was perhaps the cause of the pain. Anupama is now on a year-long vitamin D supplements dose.
Vitamin D is a nutrient that is crucial for calcium absorption in the body and is therefore vital to building strong bones. Though not needed in small but stable quantity by the body, Vitamin D plays useful role in maintaining blood calcium levels and regulates calcium and phosphorus which are vital for bone and teeth strength. Vitamin D also helps in keeping the immune system healthy.
"Vitamin D deficiency is rampant among Indians today, especially among young men and women and this is a very dangerous trend. Vitamin D deficiency implies that the calcium you consume is not absorbed well by the body, bones and teeth and this results in softening of bones, weakness in muscles and even tooth decay. Some early symptoms include pain in the bones or joints, recurrent backache, general fatigue and weakness. It is most dangerous for the bones as it can cause early osteoporosis and lead to fractures," says Dr Rajeev K Sharma, Senior Consultant, Orthopedics & Joint Replacement Surgeon at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, New Delhi.
Sun is the main source of vitamin D. When the sun interacts with skin, the body automatically produces vitamin D. Human skin can make sufficient amount of vitamin D when a fair amount of skin is exposed to the sun directly. The synthesis occurs between the skin and ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation. But skin will not make vitamin D if you step out with clothes covering all your body or if you sit in the sunlight coming through a window. To produce vitamin D, sufficient surface area of bare skin needs to be exposed to direct sunlight.
"Unfortunately, our sun exposure has gone down drastically in recent years. Spending most of our times indoors, we hardly see the sun, even in winters. Moreover, Indian way of dressing which usually involves full sleeves and long length trousers also prevents sun exposure. The use of sunscreen has also become very popular and this obstructs whatever little sun exposure one could have. We need to strike a balance between protecting skin from harmful radiation and ensuring production of vital vitamin D," adds Dr Sharma.
Some studies also indicate that women with vitamin D deficiency are more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis.
People who have been prescribed oral steroids are also more likely to have vitamin D deficiency.
Early bone mineral loss leads to early onset on osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, and this is happening in many young Indians.
Proper amounts of minerals and vitamins are essential to promote bone growth. What we eat has a direct effect on our bone strength. Proper intake of Calcium, Vitamin D and other Vitamins and Minerals such as phosphorus, magnesium, Vitamin K, Vitamin B6 and Vitamin B12 are all important for maintaining bone health. A compilation of all such food products containing these nutrients make a well-balanced diet.