The Alarming Health Risks Associated with Vitamin D Deficiency

One would assume that living in sunny South Africa would mean that we all get the necessary boost of daily sunshine to ensure that our vitamin D levels are optimized. Unfortunately, research tells us otherwise. A study in the South African Medical Journal indicates that one in five children is vitamin D deficient. In fact, researchers have estimated that at least 50% of the general population is at risk of vitamin D deficiency and the various health conditions that are linked to this deficiency. These conditions include autoimmune and bone disorders, depression, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, obesity, osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Some intervention studies have shown that vitamin D can lower blood pressure in hypertensive patients, and results of a study by researchers at the University of California San Francisco published in 2002 revealed that women over the age of sixty-five who regularly took vitamin D were nearly one-third less likely to die from heart disease, compared with women who did not take the vitamin. Results of a study by Wang et al also suggest that vitamin D may protect against cardiovascular disease. The researchers monitored the vitamin D levels, blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk factors of 1739 people, of an average age of 59 years for 5 years. Results showed that people with low levels of vitamin D (<15 ng/ml) and high blood pressure had a 62% higher risk of a cardiovascular event than those with normal vitamin D levels.

If that isn’t enough to convince you, some experts believe that exposing the body to sunlight and therefore ensuring that the body has a plentiful supply of vitamin D3 can reduce the risk of many cancers by more than 50%, and even help to reverse certain types of cancers.

To overcome this deficiency, a number of African and Middle Eastern academics have proposed new ways to address the problem.

Vitamin D tests

A simple blood test can be requested by your doctor. Based on the test results, your doctor will be able to prescribe the optimum dosage to suit your needs.

Take in the sunshine

Make an effort to spend at least fifteen minutes a day in the sun, but ensure that you are protected by the harmful rays with a high quality sunscreen.

Eat foods rich on vitamin D

Increase your intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains that are rich in anti-oxidants to at least eight portions per day.

These include:

  • All berries, especially blue berries and red berries.

  • Nuts have healthy fats and each type of nut offers a unique profile of minerals and phytochemicals.

  • Dark green vegetables such as spinach, kale and broccoli are filled with antioxidant phytochemicals which may help dilate blood vessels and may have cancer-fighting properties.

  • Leeks, lettuce, and kale provide strong antioxidants known as lutein and quercetin.

  • Tea has two potent phytochemicals known as anthocyanin and

pro anthocyanin. Both are antioxidants that help fight inflammation and are thought to block cell damage that can lead to cancer. Green tea is filled with inflammation-fighting antioxidants and latest research shows that drinking green tea may also reduce your risk of skin cancer.

  • Whole grain foods such as brown rice, barley and oats include zinc and selenium and phytochemicals.

  • Fish is one of the few foods that offers vitamin D and is rich in omega 3 fats. Salmon, mackerel, sardines and anchovies are excellent choices.

  • Invest in organic foods wherever possible to avoid exposure to pesticides and avoid processed foods.

Fast facts on vitamin D

Medical News Today shares the following key points about vitamin D:

  • Vitamin D's primary role is to support the development and maintenance of bones and teeth.

  • A fair-skinned person with full body exposure to the sun can synthesize up to 20,000 IU of vitamin D3 in 20 minutes.

  • Vitamin D deficiency is common, especially in the elderly, infants, people with dark skin and people living at higher latitudes or who get little sun exposure.

  • Vitamin D deficiency has been seen in up to 80% of hip fracture patients.

  • 800IU of vitamin D per day reduces the risk of fracture by 20% in the elderly and decreases the risk of falls.

  • The metabolism of vitamin D may be affected by some medications, including barbiturates, phenobarbital, dilantin, isoniazid and statin drugs.


Wang TJ, Pencina MJ, Booth SL, Jacques PF, Ingelsson E, Lanier K, Benjamin EJ, D'Agostino RB, Wolf M, Vasan RS. Vitamin D deficiency and risk of cardiovascular disease. Circulation. 2008;117:503- 511.

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