Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

The Sunshine Vitamin

This is from The Washington Post and you can read the entire article by clicking on the blue type.

Vitamin D deficiency is, ironically, a serious issue for Middle Eastern women who stay out of the sun and who cover – wear abaya, hijab and niqab. The body makes Vitamin D from sunshine – which we have here in the Gulf in great abundance. Even exposing your skin for ten minutes a day in a secluded sunny spot will help your body create the Vitamin D it needs to build your bones and your system.

Some Seek Guidelines to Reflect Vitamin D’s Benefits

By Rob Stein

Washington Post Staff Writer 
Friday, July 4, 2008; Page A01

A flurry of recent research indicating that Vitamin D may have a dizzying array of health benefits has reignited an intense debate over whether federal guidelines for the “sunshine vitamin” are outdated, leaving millions unnecessarily vulnerable to cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other ailments.

The studies have produced evidence that low levels of Vitamin D make men more likely to have heart attacks, breast and colon cancer victims less likely to survive, kidney disease victims more likely to die, and children more likely to develop diabetes. Two other studies suggested that higher Vitamin D levels reduce the risk of dying prematurely from any cause.

In response to these and earlier findings, several medical societies are considering new recommendations for a minimum daily Vitamin D intake, the American Medical Association recently called for the government to update its guidelines, and federal officials are planning to launch that effort.

But many leading experts caution that it remains premature for people to start taking large doses of Vitamin D. While the new research is provocative, experts argue that the benefits remain far from proven. Vitamin D can be toxic at high doses, and some studies suggest it could increase the risk for some health problems, experts say. No one knows what consequences might emerge from exposing millions of people to megadoses of the vitamin for long periods.

“The data are intriguing and serve as, no pun intended, food for further fruitful research,” said Mary Frances Picciano, at the Office of Dietary Supplements of the National Institutes of Health. “But beyond that, the data are just not solid enough to make any new recommendations. We have to be cautious.”

The current clash is the latest in a long, often unusually bitter debate. Some skeptics question whether funding by the tanning, milk and vitamin industries is biasing some advocates. Frustrated proponents accuse skeptics of clinging to outdated medical dogma.

“It feels kind of ridiculous working in this field sometimes,” said Reinhold Vieth, a professor of nutritional sciences and pathobiology at the University of Toronto. “Every week, I get interviewed about the next important publication about Vitamin D. But this field remains mired in the muck.”

Vieth is one of a small but vocal cadre of researchers pushing doctors and patients to stop waiting for new official guidelines. Physicians should routinely test their patients for Vitamin D deficiencies, and more people — especially African Americans — should take supplements and increase their exposure to the sun, they say.

“The bottom line is we now recognize that Vitamin D is important for health for both children and adults and may help prevent many serious chronic diseases,” said Michael F. Holick, a professor of medicine, physiology and biophysics at Boston University.

Scientists have long known that Vitamin D is a vital nutrient the skin produces when hit by ultraviolet light from sunlight and other sources. The amount of Vitamin D produced varies, depending on where the person lives, skin pigment, age and other factors. African Americans and other dark-skinned people, and anyone living in northern latitudes, make far less than other groups.

With people spending more time indoors surfing the Web, watching television, working at desk jobs, and covering up and using sunblock when they do venture outdoors, the amount of Vitamin D that people create in their bodies has been falling. Milk and a few other foods are fortified with Vitamin D, and it occurs naturally in others, such as fatty fish, but most people get very little through their diets.

“Humans evolved in equatorial Africa wearing no clothes,” said Robert P. Heaney, a leading Vitamin D researcher at Creighton University in Omaha. “Now we get much less direct sunlight, and so we don’t make nearly as much Vitamin D.”

July 6, 2008 - Posted by | Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Health Issues, Kuwait, Living Conditions |


  1. that made interesting and relevant reading. As you had said outdoor activity has almost been wiped out, in the present day scenario, and more so in countries where temperatures scale over 40 deg C. Good that such awareness be created so theyre/we’re not totally deprived of this precious vitamin, which might at some stage in our life turn crucial. So health campaigns can be done to encourage more beach and other such activities.

    Comment by onlooker | July 6, 2008 | Reply

  2. I had some problems few years back! I love milk and I drink it daily, but somehow my calcium level went down just a little below normal! I was given Vitamin D supplements hehehehe I wonder why! I did blood test again and I was back on track.
    Keep in mind that I do go out in the sun!

    Comment by Ansam | July 6, 2008 | Reply

  3. I first learned of this in Qatar, Onlooker, where Vitamin D deficiency was a real issue among covered women, especially those bearing babies and nursing. None of them wanted their faces darkened by the sunlight, either. I remember the article said even ten minutes early in the morning when the sun was less strong would be enough to boost Vitamin D production.

    Yikes! Ansam, you drink milk and still had a deficiency? I wonder if Vitamin D is added to the milk here? I am glad to hear you are on track now.

    Comment by intlxpatr | July 7, 2008 | Reply

  4. I am assuming the blood results were off because it did not make sense to me cuz it was in the summer and I was practically swimming/on the beach almost daily!

    Comment by Ansam | July 7, 2008 | Reply

  5. Talk about starvation in the midst of plenty! I was chatting up an Iraqi orthopod at the club the other day 🙂 We soon got talking about the Sunshine vitamin and how much of it is available to ladies in Kuwait and yet how little of it most of them manage to get thanks to the veil. Osteoporosis has reached epidemic proportions in veiled women today and they are all of them none the wiser for it. Apparently, women sworn to wearing the hijab 24/ 7 should at least, for a half hour each day expose their hands, faces and back to the sun. They could get themselves a sun lounger which they could use in the privacy of their courtyards and keep osteoporosis in check. Ideally,husbands should insist their wives get themselves a lovely tan or else refuse them their weekly make-up and perfume allowance.

    Comment by Jacky Tan | July 15, 2008 | Reply

  6. Tacky, Jacky, that last line. I hadn’t thought of the risk of osteoporosis. Thanks for your input.

    Comment by intlxpatr | July 16, 2008 | Reply

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