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Vitamin D deficiency leaves millions at risk of numerous diseases and disorders

Vitamin D deficiency is one of the most commonly unrecognised and easily preventable medical conditions, according to Dr Michael F Holick in a review article published in The New England Journal of Medicine. The body produces vitamin D by exposure to sunlight. This means that sensible sun exposure will be beneficial to millions.

The article explores the nature of vitamin D deficiency and concludes it to be one of the most commonly unrecognised medical conditions.

According to Holick, the effects of this condition can be both immediate and far-reaching for women and children. For example, pregnant women, even when taking a prenatal vitamin, are still at high risk for preeclampsia, a condition characterised by hypertension, fluid retention and protein loss in the urine. Low levels of calcium and vitamin D in utero and in childhood may prevent the maximum deposition of calcium in the skeleton. Vitamin D deficiency in early life may increase the risk of developing serious chronic diseases such as type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

In adults, recent evidence has shown that vitamin D deficiency can put an individual at risk for developing a variety of deadly cancers. Holick points to prospective and retrospective studies indicating that vitamin D deficiency is associated with a 30-50% increased risk of colon, prostate and breast cancer along with higher mortality among those diagnosed with these cancers, especially darker skin individuals who have the highest incidence of vitamin D deficiency in the US. “Vitamin D deficiency is an epidemic in this country,” stated Dr Holick. “Sensible sun exposure and the use of supplements are the best ways to address this easily preventable condition,” he added.