Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 June 2019

Standardised tests 'needed to tackle UAE's shocking Vitamin D deficiency'

A health conference heard that inconsistent testing is holding back research

Getting more sunlight is key to boosting Vitamin D levels, but can be tough due to extreme heat in the UAE. Pawan Singh / The National
Getting more sunlight is key to boosting Vitamin D levels, but can be tough due to extreme heat in the UAE. Pawan Singh / The National

Standardised testing for Vitamin D deficiency should be introduced to help improve research in the UAE, a health conference heard.

A two-year Dubai Health Authority study presented in 2017 found an estimated 90 per cent of the UAE population are vitamin D deficient.

But different methods of testing for vitamin D yield inconsistent results, said Fatme Al Anouti, assistant dean of biochemistry and clinical chemistry in the College of Natural and Health Sciences at Zayed University, Abu Dhabi.

Vitamin D deficiency is linked to auto-immune disease, dementia, obseity and heart disease. It can cause weakness in muscle and bone and low moods.

At the Abu Dhabi Annual International Conference on Vitamin D Deficiency and Human Health, a two-day conference that started on Thursday, Dr Al Anouti said healthcare professionals must work together to tackle a condition that is so widespread in the country.

“We’re calling for standardisation,” said Dr Al Anouti.

“It especially has to be looked at in the UAE. This is an important time to consider standardisation.

“We’re trying to emphasize that there is a need to test.

“It puts pressure on healthcare professionals because they don’t want to test deficiencies.”

Vitamin D is the only vitamin synthesised by the body. Just 15 to 30 minutes of sunlight can be enough to meet the body’s requirements but in a climate where temperatures regularly exceed 40 degrees and modest dress is the norm, this can be difficult to achieve despite year round sunshine.

National health insurer Daman stopped covering tests for vitamin D in 2016, meaning many people will have untreated deficiencies.The insurer’s figures indicated nearly four in five people suffered from the deficiency.

Standardised testing is critical to research, which has conflicting results on the impact of vitamin D.

“If we don’t standardise we keep missing important data and weaken our scientific research because there will always be some people who will counter what we’re saying, said Dr Al Anouti. “We need to speak the same language, so we really need to know that we’re all on the same baseline.”

Residents have come up with creative ways to solve the deficiency, from vitamin D infused water to abaya designs that allow the sunlight to filter to the skin while maintaining modesty.

But scientists warned that as people become more sedentary and spend less time outside, the problem has gone unchecked and it will have severe long term consequences for the population.

“We have really very shocking numbers and these numbers are the same in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Gulf regions,” said Dr Laila Abdel Wareth, chief of clinical pathology at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. “Every year we given this conference and every year the number is not changing.”

Eight ways to boost your vitamin D

1. Catch some rays

Sunlight is the best and easiest way to get vitamin D. The ultraviolet B rays can’t travel through glass, so the first step is to get outside. If you have fair skin, you will need about 20 minutes in the sun without sunscreen, three times a week. If you have darker skin, you will need up to 40 minutes. If you are overweight, you need more vitamin D, and more time under the sun.

2. Eat fish

Salmon is famed for its high levels of vitamin D, with 100 grams of wild salmon providing 165 per cent of the average daily recommended dose. There’s no need to eat imported fish: a serving of sardines, once a local staple, can provide 45 per cent of your daily needs. Fatty fish, raw oysters, caviar and shrimp are also a good source of the vitamin.

3. Not a fan of seafood? Try egg yolks from free-range chickens. A yolk from a chicken raised indoors contains 18—39 IU (international units) of vitamin D but this can quadruples with free range chickens.

4. Vegan?

Mushrooms, much like us, synthesize vitamin D in sunlight. They make vitamin D2, rather than vitamin D3. This raises the level of vitamin D in the blood but is not as ideal. Don’t expect much from mushrooms grown in a dark shed but wild mushrooms will give you what you need.

5. Take supplements

It’s difficult to get enough vitamin D through diet alone. Doctors recommend supplements. Before you begin, speak to your physician first and remember to take extra magnesium to help absorption.

6. Exercise

Stay active to boost your body’s production of vitamin D.

7. Switch up your abaya

Dubai designer Murcyleen Peerzada has created abayas that let in the sunlight because she was vitamin D deficient herself.

8. Limit caffeine

Caffeine may affect vitamin D receptors so be sure to skip coffee and tea when you are getting your daily dose of the vitamin.

Updated: March 14, 2019 06:46 PM

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