Thursday, November 8, 2012

Vitamin Divide

Since coming home I've been battling a Vitamin D deficiency. Of course Vitamin D is essential for the absorption of calcium and I've also had to battle a calcium deficiency. After being diagnosed with these deficiencies I began looking into them a lot more. Several other expats I knew had these same deficiencies. More than I would think common if I had been in the US. You hardly ever hear of people having these deficiencies here so for me to hear of several expats having the problem it seemed like a skewed ratio.

What I found is that even though there's lots of sunlight available in India, people's bodies are not absorbing enough Vitamin D from it. This is actually a major issue in North India though not always taken seriously by the proper officials.

Some reasons why people in India aren't absorbing enough Vitamin D:
  • Latitude
  • Atmospheric pollution
  • Skin pigmentation
In the US Vitamin D and calcium are added to products to help us get more of them into our bodies. They are vital for bone health and our government has recognized the need to supplement our exposure to the sun by putting them into our foods (I'm putting it nicely but we all know the government shoves a lot down our throats and it's not about health at all).

I hope you were intrigued by the 3rd thing on that list - skin pigmentation. It's proven that lighter skin colors absorb more Vitamin D. The more pigmentation you have in your skin, the harder it is to absorb a sufficient amount of Vitamin D from natural sunlight. You can read more about this with the following 2 links (the first being scientific and the second being much more reader friendly).

PLOS ONE: Pigmentation and Vitamin D Metabolism in Caucasians
Natural News: Race-based medicine misses the point

This could become a huge problem for women who cover every inch of their bodies in an attempt to remain fair-skinned. When I was there it was not uncommon to see women with gloves, heads wrapped and wearing long sleeves and long pants. Some women remain indoors when the sun is at its strongest to keep their skin light.

Of course, you would think with how white-skinned I am that I would not have had the problem. But I still did, as did other white women I know. It's my opinion that having to cover up so much of your skin and not being able to spend much daylight time outdoors contributed to my problem. When I did go out, I wrapped my face almost completely and most of the time only my hands were showing. I did wear short sleeves sometimes and I didn't cover my face to sit on the terrace but I simply wasn't out there enough to absorb the sun.

I also have a sensitivity to light that complicated my exposure. I couldn't sit outside during the best parts of the day for this type of exposure because the brightness of the sun would make me dizzy or cause blurred vision. Even with sunglasses. You may not have this issue as other girls have not. But, still quite a few pardesi women still found themselves Vitamin D deficient after spending time in India.

Pollution is easy to figure out. India was declared as the most polluted country in the world earlier this year. So it only stands to reason that this is a big part of the problem. The suns rays can't penetrate the pollution properly, limiting the amount of ultraviolet spectrum that reaches the earth and seeps into your skin. I know when I was there one of the first things I noticed was that my skin didn't burn and most other pardesi's notice the difference in the sun exposure.

NY Times: India’s Air the World’s Unhealthiest, Study Says

India is in the one of the best positions for latitude. There's plenty of sunlight shining down on India. Enough to provide adequate Vitamin D but not so much that it becomes dangerous as in other latitude zones. This isn't a factor causing the problem in North India.

Vitamin D deficiencies in children are now being linked to auto-immune disorders like arthritis and Chrone's disease in adulthood. This is a potentially serious issue. For those of you planning to travel to India for an extended stay, boost your calcium intake now and carry some supplements with you. This will give you enough supply until you find supplements at your local pharmacy in India. 

Further reading:
Indian endocrinologists warn of vitamin D deficiency
Vitamin D Deficiency: Indian Scenario
The Telegraph India: Vitamin D(ivide) between India & America
Indian Pediatrics: Vitamin D Deficiency in Indian Adolescents


  1. The funny thing about the pigmentation is that originally those who lived up in near the poles might have envolve to have less pigmentation in order to absorb more snu rays and generate adequate levels of vitamin D in an area that has less sunlit days or hours in a day than closer to the equator, and those living near the equator had more pigmentation to ensure tha they would not overdose on vitamin D, nature had a plan, but thanks to humankind, we managed to destroy this balance, pollution prevents the sunrays to reach us, fashion has girls in the West want a deep tan in and the ones in India to stay indoor to stay fair, in both case that sabotage chances of proper vitamin D exposure even further...sigh!

  2. That's a great point! I didn't think about it that way. Thanks for sharing!