Vitamin D deficiency among Ethiopians

Vitamin D deficiency causes serious medical problems, including common cancers, brittle bones, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment, severe asthma in children, weak immune system, chronic fatigue, hypertension, infectious diseases, and depression.

Vitamin D is found in cells throughout the body. Muscles need it to move nerves need it to carry messages between the brain and every body part, and the immune system needs vitamin D to fight off invading bacteria and viruses.

Foods that provide vitamin D

  • Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel are among the best sources.
  • Beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks provide small amounts.
  • Mushrooms provide some vitamin D. In some mushrooms that are newly available in stores, the vitamin D content is being boosted by exposing these mushrooms to ultraviolet light.
  • Almost all of the U.S. milk supply is fortified with 400 IU of vitamin D per quart. But foods made from milk, like cheese and ice cream, are usually not fortified.
  • Vitamin D is added to many breakfast cereals and to some brands of orange juice, yogurt, margarine, and soy beverages; check the labels.

Recommended amounts of Vitamin D

Average daily recommended amounts from the Food and Nutrition Board for different ages are listed below in International Units (IU):

Life Stage Recommended Amount
Birth to 12 months 400 IU
Children 1–13 years 600 IU
Teens 14–18 years 600 IU
Adults 19–70 years 600 IU
Adults 71 years and older 800 IU
Pregnant and breastfeeding women 600 IU

Source: National Institute of Health

Vitamin D deficiency affecting Ethiopians

By Alicia

At a recent check up with my doctor discovered that I have very low levels of vitamin D in my body. That made me think about the subject of vitamin D levels in children and specially in children of dark skin.

People with dark skin can’t absorb well vitamin D, since the same melanin that protects the skin against burning, also prevents it from absorbing this crucial vitamin.

Also if you live north of 40 degrees latitude north or south of 40 degrees latitude south there is no way you can get enough vitamin D from sun exposure alone; for example black people living in Canada are the ones that are more at risk of developing heath issues related to the lack of vitamin D.

Since my dark skin children now live here, I can assume they are not getting enough, that’s why I give them a daily vitamin supplement that at least contains 400 IU of vitamin D.

I know that we are supposed to use sunscreen to protect ourselves from skin cancer, but you need to expose your skin at least 15 minutes a day to the sun rays without any protection, preferably during the early or late hours of the day when the sun can do less damage. Here where we live, we don’t have much sun during great part of the year, so a supplement is very important.

Maybe you are wondering if you can get the recommended amount of vitamin D from food alone. Apparently there aren’t many foods with this vitamin and you’ll have to eat a lot of those foods to get what you need. Foods high in vitamin D are for example, cod liver oil, raw fish, or dried mushrooms. You can get it from vitamin D fortified milk or orange juice too, but you’d need to drink A LOT to get the daily quota, like at least 10 glasses a day. The better way is  taking a pill a day and is pretty safe and rarely you can overdose.

Regarding the relation between dark skin and vitamin D, the darker the skin the more likely the child has a deficiency, and most of the children adopted from Ethiopia come with some degree of deficiency due to malnutrition.

If a child doesn’t have enough vitamin D it will develop some problem in the bones, since the vitamin D is essential for the hormones that make the calcium go to the bones. One of the most common problems in children that are deficient in this vitamin is rickets, in which the bones soften and they children get fractures and deformities; in adults this same condition is called osteomalacia.

It’s a good idea to get your children (and yourself) tested for vitamin D deficiency and ask your pediatrician how much a dose is recommended to keep them healthy.