x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Brave UAE summer heat for dose of Vitamin D, doctors urge

Sunlight may be in abundance during summer months but health experts are warning residents of the dangers of not getting enough of it.

Health experts say UAE residents should be spending at least 10 minutes in the sunshine a day.
Health experts say UAE residents should be spending at least 10 minutes in the sunshine a day.

ABU DHABI // Sunlight may be in abundance during the summer but health experts are warning of the dangers of not getting enough of it.

About 90 per cent of a person’s recommended intake of vitamin D is produced by the body in response to the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

But soaring summer temperatures keep many indoors.

Dr Maged Shurrab, a specialist family physician at Al Tadawi Medical Centre in Dubai, said he saw patients suffering from vitamin D deficiency all year – but it grew worse in the summer.

“People are not exposed enough to the sun,” he said. “There is a lack of health education and the people are not aware that exposure to sun is very important as a source for vitamin D.”

A deficiency of the vitamin can result in rickets, a condition that affects bone development in children. It can also cause fatigue, muscle ache and osteoporosis in adults, Dr Shurrab said.

Getting enough vitamin D helps to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, which is needed to keep bones and teeth healthy.

“There are some people who sit behind the window for hours thinking that they are forming vitamin D under the skin by the sunlight, but they are not,” said Dr Ahmed Bahaa, an emergency physician at Abu Dhabi’s Burjeel Hospital.

He suggested people expose themselves to the sun outside for an average of 20 minutes, though less than 30 minutes, twice a week between 11am and 3pm, with sunscreen only on their faces for the duration.

After that period they should apply sunscreen all over, advised Dr Bahaa, from Egypt.

Dr Shurrab, a Canadian, said 10 minutes a day of sunshine was sufficient to get enough vitamin D.

“You have to expose almost 75 per cent of your body – that means you expose your arms, face and back,” he said. “The most useful time is between 9am until 3pm.”

Dr Shurrab advised against using sunscreen during those 10 minutes because it blocks the absorption of ultraviolet rays.

He said sunburn was not an issue because it was only for 10 minutes, although people should ensure they stayed well hydrated.

He also recommended vitamin D tablets for deficiency prevention, after consulting a doctor.

Dr Youssef Hassan, a consultant in endocrinology at Abu Dhabi’s Al Noor Hospital, advises his patients to take tablets instead of getting too much sun due to the risk of skin cancer.

“Skin cancer is very common, especially in fair-skinned people, so I do recommend for my patients to take the pills,” he said, adding that doing so is easy and manageable.

Vitamin D deficiency is an all- year-round problem in the UAE, he said, but worse during the summer as people avoid the sun because of the heat.

“However, most of our local people have it. It is not only because of the summer, it is also the way they dress, the way they cover up and the way they stay away from the sun, even in the winter time,” he said.

Suspected vitamin D deficiency makes up 80 to 90 per cent of his workload involving Emirati and Arab patients all year round, said Dr Hassan.

With western patients, this figure drops to about 50 per cent, he said. But even those who expose more skin may not be getting enough vitamin D because they often wear sunscreen, he added.

Elderly people tend to get less vitamin D because their skin is thinner and darker-skinned people also need more time in the sun to produce enough, he explained.

“The long-term effect of vitamin D deficiency is usually on the bone. People will get bone aches, some muscle aches sometimes, and some will present with fractures,” said Dr Hassan, from the United States.

He said that people should have their vitamin D levels tested twice a year.

The UAE has one of the highest rates of vitamin D deficiency in the world. Experts have estimated 60 per cent of men and 65 per cent of women in the Emirates are deficient in the vitamin.

About 10 per cent of a person’s recommended vitamin D intake is derived from foods such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and milk.

ecleland@thenational.ae