Professor Terry Diamond Vitamin D Deficiency Interview Vitamin D deficiency is quite common in Australia and it is estimated that as many as one in three adults suffer from low vitamin D levels. There are a variety of women who are at a high risk of having low vitamin D levels, these include;
Women who stay indoors or are a shift worker
Women with naturally dark skin and,
Women who cover all their skin for religious or cultural reasons.
Interview with Professor Terry DiamondProf Terry Diamond is the Associate Professor of Medicine in the Department of Endocrinology at the University of NSW.
What is vitamin D important for and why do our bodies need it?
Professor Terry Diamond: Vitamin D is an important vitamin which is needed throughout the body; most importantly it is responsible for the control of calcium metabolisms, so vitamin D acts on absorbing calcium and it maintains optimal calcium in the body. Vitamin D is also important for mineralizing bone, by doing this it keeps bones strong and reduces the risks of fracturing. If you are vitamin D deficient you bones are less strong and they also do not mineralise well and become weaker. Vitamin D is important throughout the body because there are sectors in every cell in the body, like in muscle, so if you are Vitamin D deficient, your muscles doesn't work properly and you can fall or increase your risk of fractures.
Why is vitamin D extra important during pregnancy?
Professor Terry Diamond: Vitamin D controls calcium absorption in the mother and then is responsible for calcium being pumped across the placenta to the baby, which is responsible for the development of the babies skeleton and babies good health, when they are born.
Mothers think vitamin D is only important for them, but if they are vitamin D deficient their babies, if you look at the strength of their babies at age nine or ten and later in life, they start to have thinner bones and may develop osteoporoses. It is important across all ages from child to adults to pregnancy.
In Australia at some of the pregnancy clinics, it can be as high as 70-80% of people that are vitamin D deficient..
How might we know if our vitamin D levels are low?
Professor Terry Diamond: The only way you would know is by measuring the vitamin D in your blood, via blood test.
What happens if our body doesn't have enough vitamin D?
Professor Terry Diamond: A lot of people will not know if they don't have enough vitamin D in their body because it is a slow process that occurs. The first sign of vitamin D deficiency may be an elderly woman who breaks her hip, it is a silent disease. It is often mimicked and presents itself as many, many types of disorders. For example; young women who complain of muscle and bone pain that are diagnosed as having fibromyalgia, may have a vitamin D deficiency. If you are weak, your muscles may have vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to recurring infections, higher risk of diabetes and a higher risk of auto-immune diseases such as Lupus and Multiple Sclerose. The only time you actually know is when you are so profoundly vitamin D deficient that the bone is not mineralizing and therefore you get severe bone pain.
How do our bodies get vitamin D?
Professor Terry Diamond: The tense source of vitamin D is through sunlight because sunlight activates the skin to make vitamin D. 80-90% of our vitamin D comes from external sources such as sunlight and radiation. Less than 10-15% of people get vitamin D from their diets, it is not a good source and you need to eat a lot of fatty foods and take vitamin D supplements, there aren't great food sources for vitamin D.
Is it more common for vitamin D deficiencies to develop in winter?
Professor Terry Diamond: Yes, exactly. It is much more common in winter. It is also much more common in people who can't activate vitamin D through their skin, so people who have dark pigmentation or who have skin disorders or those who are working inside and not going out into the sunlight.
How much time in sunlight is needed?
Professor Terry Diamond: That would depend on the time of the year. In summer you need far less exposure because the sun is much more powerful; you only need 10-15 minutes and not in the peak-heat. In winter that can expand out to at least a half an hour, every day, if you have dark skin, even more time.
How important is vitamin D for children?
Professor Terry Diamond: Vitamin D, across the board, is linked to so many disorders and so many interesting things are coming out in regards to studies. Kids were given vitamin D and results show they have 40% less chance of getting a flu-like illness, which shows it is very important in immunity. It is important across all ages from child to adults to pregnancy.
Australia is known as the 'sunburn country' why is Vitamin D a concern for Australia women?
Professor Terry Diamond: A large percentage of Australians are vitamin D deficient. Although, this problem is across the world, they estimate that it has cost a billion dollars in indirect costs in England, for vitamin D deficiency.
Interview by Brooke Hunter