One in 3 deficient in vitamin D

11 March 2016  |  Editor

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Europeans deficient in vitamin D

A new review of 195 studies involving more than 168,000 participants in 44 countries has found that 37.3% of us are deficient in vitamin D – and that Europeans are more deficient than North Americans.

The study compared measurements of 25(OH)D, or calcidiol, in blood samples, which is deemed to be the most effective measurement of vitamin D status. Levels of below 50nmol/l were considered to be deficient.

Calcidiol is the pre-hormone form of vitamin D, and is directly related to calcium absorption. This is why vitamin D is often recommended for those with osteoporosis, rickets and other conditions where bones need to be strengthened.

As a response, International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF) CEO Judy Stenmark has stated, "Given the global increase in the number of seniors and the almost fourfold increase in hip fractures due to osteoporosis since 1990, public health officials must address the impact of inadequate vitamin D status on fracture risk and overall health in their ageing populations as well as on children and adolescents. IOF urges further research as well as public health measures that would help to improve vitamin D status in these high-risk population groups."

In addition, vitamin D is converted to a hormone with anti-inflammatory and gene-triggering action. Deficiency has been related to a number of chronic conditions, ranging from asthma and colitis to diabetes and heart disease and hypertension.

The Heidelberg University review, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, found that:

  • vitamin D levels were lower in Europe and the Middle East than in North America
  • there was only a limited number of studies available for South America
  • age-related differences were reported in Asia-Pacific regions and the Middle East only

Diet only has a minor role to play in vitamin D status, as we depend largely on the sun for adequate doses of vitamin D. The further away from the equator, the harder this becomes between autumn and spring, as the sun is not high enough above the equator for adequate UVB rays to reach us. Pollution, cloud cover, precipitation, clothing and sun protection all inhibit the same UVB rays. So there are a number of climate and lifestyle differences that can affect vitamin D production in the skin.

High cortisol levels, due to stress, and medication such as statins also lower vitamin D production.

Many are therefore choosing to take vitamin D3 supplements, particularly in the darker months.