Vitamin D Deficiency and Why Muslim Women – and Their Children are at Risk
You may not have heard the statistics yet, but most of the population of the Northern United States – and many other locals are deficient in a nutrient critical to the human body – Vitamin D. Also, this trend is becoming particularly prevalent among Muslim women. In this article, I’ll first explain what Vitamin D is and why it’s so important – and later, how Muslim women are particularly at risk for a deficiency.
What is Vitamin D, Why Do We Need It & How Do We Get It?
First it’s important to understand just how critical a nutrient Vitamin D is for optimal human function. Your levels of Vitamin D impact many areas of your health, including: bone strength, emotional wellness, immune function, dental health, childhood development, and elder health
Vitamin D is created in the body when the sun’s ultraviolet rays penetrate the skin. One of the main functions of Vitamin D is to initiate the metabolism of calcium and phosphorus, which allows calcium in your body to be deposited into your bones. When this process is hindered, it can lead to weak and brittle bones, retard normal growth – and other serious health issues as well.
Causes of Vitamin D Deficiency
There are a number of documented and varied reasons for the current wide-spread deficiency, including:
–> Living in a an area with reduced sun exposure (northern countries)
–> Wintertime, when days are shorter (also part of the reason for increased sickness in winter – vitamin D feeds the immune system).
–> Possessing a darker complexion, as the natural melanin blocks penetration of the sun’s rays.
–> Babies who are exclusively breastfed by Vitamin D deficient mothers or that receive little sun exposure (winter babies)
–> An unbalanced vegan diet, or a diet consisting of mostly denatured, processed food.
–> Frequent use of sunblock and sunscreen, which blocks ultra-violate rays that synthesize the production of Vitamin D.
–> Not exposing much of your body to the sun.
–> Working a mostly indoor job.
–> Intestinal or Kidney issues, which can hinder nutrient absorption.
Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency
So, what are some possible indicators that you or your children may be suffering from this phenomenon? Below are some of the most common symptoms.
— Weak bones – and in young children, failure to form teeth or sit up straight based on developmental stage (lack of nutrients to strengthen bones).
— Osteoporosis in older individuals, which leads to an increased risk in fractures, etc.
— Full blown Vitamin D dependent Rickets – this is a severe deficiency, which can lead to major development issues if not corrected, including severely bowed legs, abnormally large/misshapen head, weak arms/legs, irregularly shaped chest and more.
— Depression – areas where the days are shortest report the highest rates of depression.
— Muscle spasms or weakness, as Vitamin D is required for optimal muscle health.
— The symptoms of some immune related diseases are impacted by low Vitamin D (such as psoriasis and Lupus), and research is also being done on the link to some forms of cancer.
The increased Impact on Muslim Women
One of the major causes of Vitamin D deficiency is lack of direct exposure to the sun. As Muslim women we observe Hijab, which dictates that when outside, we are fully covered as a protection and to show our lofty status. However, if we’re not careful, this can potentially contribute to a deficiency – especially in recent years when the food has become so devoid of nutrition (this often starts on the farm where the soil has been depleted and infused with chemicals).
And as many sisters rely on breastfeeding to nourish their babies – as is the Sunnah, the deficiency can be passed onto our little ones as well. In the last 5-10 years, there has been an increase in cases of infant and childhood Rickets due to this fact, as well as poor overall nutrition, which makes it imperative to take extra precautions – especially considering our limited exposure to the sun.
I personally experienced the impact of a Vitamin D deficiency (which I didn’t know I had) with my (now) 5 year old son. MashaAllah, he experienced normal development until about 6-7 months (was exclusively breastfed for 6 months), then began to exhibit strange signs, such as: not pushing up on his forearms or seeming to have trouble holding his head up, drawing his legs up close to his body and one leg seemed to be in pain if I tried to straighten it, general lethargy and listlessness, and reduced appetite and weight.
When I took him to the doctor, I specifically questioned the pediatrician about Rickets and was dismissed and told that nothing was wrong. However, my mother’s instinct (ALWAYS listen to this) and health background didn’t accept that and prodded me to keep asking questions. It wasn’t until visiting another doctor for a second opinion, that it was confirmed that my son had a severe case of Rickets and needed immediate treatment (Vitamin D and calcium injections weekly for 3 months + regular sun exposure).
Alhamdulillah, I am happy to say that he is now an active and intelligent 5 year old, but before my experience, I thought that Rickets was something that was virtually unheard of in these days. Knowledge is power, and inshaAllah sharing my experience can help other sisters prevent/effectively treat a deficiency.
Correcting a Vitamin D Deficiency
The means used to correct a deficiency is dependent upon the stage and severity of the problem, the person’s age and geographical location, and overall physical health. If you suspect a deficiency, it is important to receive an assessment from a trusted doctor. Some cases can be identified through a physical examination (often the case with children), while other times additional testing will be required to measure the amount of Vitamin D in your blood.
For children – depending on the severity of the deficiency, they will either be prescribed a Vitamin D/Calcium syrup as a mild treatment, or preventative measure – or in more severe cares require injections to stop the damage in its tracks and help build strong bone mass quickly.
Additionally, intentional exposure to direct sunlight in a private setting (I used to go up on the roof with my baby where I could at least expose my face and arms and would take his clothes off completely for a little while). A private deck or yard would work as well.
High dose Vitamin D injections are also an option for older patients and those experiencing a chronic illness – of which Vitamin D deficiency is often a symptom.
Preventing a Deficiency
–> Take a preventative Vitamin D supplement and get out in nature as much as possible (which has other amazing health benefits). Have your levels checked regularly, to ensure that they are not low – or have gotten too high.
–> Consciously consume vitamin D – rich foods, such as Cod liver oil, eggs, liver, fatty fish (tuna, makarel, salmon). Also, include calcium rich foods (preferably from plant sources) which work in tandem with Vitamin D, including: spinach, kale and collards – as well as white beans.
–> If you’re breastfeeding – exclusively or part time, it’s beneficial to add a Vitamin D3 (Not to be confused with Vit D2, which is not as effective) supplement to your diet. Look for purity in the brand you select.
–> Allow your children to play outside to expose them to expose them to the sun.
–> Be careful of excessive sunscreen use (which also has actually been linked to an INCREASE in skin cancer).
Alhamdulillah, with proper precaution and treatment – if necessary, Vitamin D deficiency can be corrected.
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