Being D deficient in abundance of sunlight – the fate of Africans
By Jessica Ahedor
Africa is known to be one of the continents that bask in a chunk of the world’s sunshine annually. This, experts say, is because most African countries are located on the equator where sunlight abounds. However, factors like lifestyle, culture, diet, skin pigmentation, variation in the ozone layer and geographical area, influence the full utilization of vitamin D among its populations on the continent.
Also known as “sunshine” vitamin, Vitamin D is a steroid hormone that is essential for the normal functioning of the body including the intestine, skin, bone, parathyroid glands, immune system, pancreas, and even the healthy growth of a developing fetus. It is produced through skin exposure to sunlight and also from diets which are enriched with Vitamin D, like sea fatty fish or egg yolk.
But according to experts, Vitamin D status is gained mostly by exposure of the skin to sunlight for 10 -15 minutes, twice a week than from dietary intake of vitamin D sources. This is because food sources are limited, particularly when the food supply is not fortified with vitamin D.
However, vitamin D toxicity can as well compromise human health especially when the body cannot regulate the excess amount of vitamin D. As such, it is estimated that up to one billion healthy individuals are living with hypovitaminosis D globally.
Available literature by Reagan M. Mogire et al, of Kenyan Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) Centre for Geographic Medicine, shows that many children in sub-Saharan Africa have a high burden of rickets and infectious diseases as a result of vitamin D deficiency. This means, one out of every 7 children living in Africa is vitamin D deficient.
Micah Mathiang’i, a senior lecturer at the Department of Nursing and Midwifery, Amref International University, Nairobi, Kenya, hinted that the phenomenon is becoming common among the populace in Africa cities. While there are adequate serum Vitamin D levels for improving healthy bones and preventing conditions like rickets among children and reducing the risk of type1diabetes, cardiovascular diseases among adults, children of working-class parents are at a higher risk, he stated.
In Ghana for instance, the situation is no different. It is the reality of many working mothers waking up early in their quest to go about daily activities to escape systemic hindrances like vehicular traffic among other challenges to keep up the needs of life. As a result, many of them miss on the sunshine vitamin.
Speaking to some Ghanaians to ascertain their level of knowledge about the “sunshine” vitamin reveals many have the general view about an existence of a nutrient that comes from the sun, but they are not aware of the timing and the exact type of vitamin.
Mrs. Nketiah-Brown, in Kasoa – a suburb of Central Region – says she knows there is a vitamin that comes from the sun early morning but she is not sure of the type. “I was told by my grandma the early morning sun is good for the body but I don’t really know what vitamin it gives. But for the time I am told the early morning sun,” she explains.
Although the condition is without isolated symptoms, it is a pre-deposing factor of many communicable and non-communicable diseases, making it difficult to figure out the role it plays in any condition that threatens human lives.
A publication in the Journal of Nutrition and metabolism by Samuel Asamoah Sakyi, et al, confirms a high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency of 43.6% among healthy Ghanaian populace despite having access to 4 – 5 hours of sunlight per day.
The lead author of the paper, Samuel Asamoah Sakyi, explains that the sun gives 80 percent of the vitamin D needed by every healthy human in addition to the 20 percent derived from diet. Unfortunately, the result of our study inferred that the depletion of the ozone layer might be one of the determinants affecting the quality of the current vitamin D available and its utilization in persons in Ghana.
“Additionally, the timing of the sunshine vitamin is 9 to 10 am daily but many people miss out on it. So, clearly, we are not getting enough from the source that gives us maximum vitamin D, hence the need for us to add the supplements to stay healthy’’.