New Delhi: The government is making rapid headway towards food fortification and consumer companies are stacking fortified food, even as there is dearth of data on Vitamin D deficiency among Indians. In a significant move to bridge the gap, Department of Biotechnology (DBT) has decided to conduct research on “Vitamin D deficiency in India-public health significance and interventions”.
“We aim to study the skeletal and non skeletal benefits, safety and potential adverse effects of Vitamin D supplementation and fortification in Indians. We will also study non-dietary interventions including sunshine exposure and exercise in alleviating Vitamin D deficiency and genetic determinants of Vitamin D metabolism and their association with biological consequences,” said Renu Swarup, senior adviser, DBT.
“Worldwide naturally occurring dietary sources of Vitamin D are limited and most individuals obtain their Vitamin D from cutaneous sun exposure. Vitamin D deficiency is prevalent globally and the data for last two decades suggests that it may be widespread in India as well,” said Swarup.
Scientists will study the representative national prevalence data of Vitamin D deficiency specifically correlated with biological consequences, especially in vulnerable populations including pregnant and lactating women, infants and elderly, and among people living in rural and coastal areas.
A study done by University of California on fortification of foods with Vitamin D in India stated that before fortification programs are designed and implemented in India, it is necessary to study the efficacy of the American and Canadian Vitamin D fortification programs and then improve upon them to suit the Indian scenario. The study highlighted that Vitamin D fortification programs implemented in the US and Canada have improved the Vitamin D status in these countries, but a significant proportion of the population is still Vitamin D deficient.
“While vitamin deficiency is a major problem, it is individual specific. There are also individuals where certain vitamins may be more than normal. While food fortification programs take place, it should be done well within the threshold limits and fortification must be done within FDA guidelines,” said Anuj Sarin, CEO, Tiffin’s Ets, caterer of nutritious foods in schools.
“Also, people should be made aware of the foods fortified and with which vitamins so that they can exercise their choice as to whether to buy such an item or not. In the future, we may see caterers or restaurants offering fortified menus as a value-added service, just like low-fat or organic foods today,” he said.
As most of the Indians assume that they can only get Vitamin D from sunlight, the DBT will also study potential vegetarian dietary sources and bio-availability of Vitamin D, the role of other nutrients, especially calcium, in determining requirements and biological functioning of Vitamin D. The studies will also aim at mechanistically understand the effects of Vitamin D deficiency, in various cells and tissues.
“Pollution is so high in India especially in Delhi. Particulate matter (PM 2.5 and 10) levels in the air are so high that Vitamin D activation in skin does not happen which leads to Vitamin D deficiency. Deficiency of Vitamin D leads to early fractures. Vitamin D is needed for calcium absorption and in bone resorption and healthy growth for humans. Unfortunately people consider calcium as more important for bones but Vitamin D has an equal, in fact a bigger role,” Deepali Bhardwaj, a Delhi-based dermatologist, said.
“Genetic determinants of Vitamin D needs more study and mutations in a population of billions has to be large scale and surely be positive owing to severe pollution,” she said.