Vitamin D deficiency affects about two in three South Africans and may be a major underlying cause of illness and serious infections, according to top SA nutritional consultant, Vanessa Ascencao.
Ascencao was responding to a recent international study which found Cape Town residents, in particular, were at risk of vitamin D deficiency in winter when UVB exposure from sunlight was extremely low, making it harder to fight disease and infection. The study said vitamin D supplementation may reverse deficiency and even slow down HIV infection.
The study by scientists from the Universities of Cape Town, Stellenbosch, and Pennsylvania State in the US examined 100 healthy Khayelitsha and Bellville adults between 18 and 24-years-old. A statement from UCT said: “The results suggest that vitamin D supplementation
may prevent winter anaemia and boost white blood cell count, possibly serving as a cost-effective intervention to reduce risk of HIV infection and slow down HIV progression in infected individuals”.
The study further showed that 63% of Capetonians are deficient while Ascencao said an independent pilot study showed only two of 17 South Africans tested across the country had adequate vitamin D levels.
“Some scientists consider this an unrecognised global epidemic and the world’s single deadliest vitamin deficiency as it has been linked to diabetes, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, and autism. Vitamin D, along with a healthy diet and lifestyle, may be the most important factor in fighting infections, including flu and HIV,” said Ascencao.
In addition to direct sunlight on exposed skin for at least 20 minutes a day, Ascencao said foods high in vitamin D include fish oils and fatty fish, mushrooms, liver, and egg yolk. She added that the most effective supplementation was via vitamin D mouth sprays.