Professionals are concerned: are Finns getting enough vitamin D?
A large number of ordinary working-age Finns suffer from vitamin D deficiency without knowing it. "A normal, healthy middle-aged person may think he or she does not need to take vitamin D supplements. But this may be a misconception, because it may not be possible to tell that you are suffering from vitamin D deficiency," says Dr. Paula Rytilä, MD, Ph.D., Medical Director at Orion Corporation.
Following a recent study* which showed that as many as one in three Finns suffer from vitamin D deficiency, medical professionals have expressed their concern about vitamin D intake among Finns. Surprisingly, low levels were discovered among ordinary working age Finns, especially women, of whom as many as 36 per cent had vitamin D deficiency.
So how have ordinary working-age women suddenly become the largest risk group?
"Osteoporosis among the elderly and the related vitamin D requirement have been topics of discussion for a long time. However, people of working age have received less attention in terms of vitamin D recommendations. I hope this will change and that this age group will start to take vitamin D supplements," says Outi Mäkitie, medical specialist at the Helsinki University Central Hospital.
Experts say that Finns' vitamin D levels drop significantly, particularly during the winter months when days are short, and that this has an impact on national health.
"Everyone in Finland is at risk of vitamin D deficiency in the winter if they do not take vitamin D supplements. Almost all illnesses have something to do with this deficiency," says Professor Emeritus Ilari Paakkari of the University of Helsinki.
Illnesses explained by deficiency
Sufficient intake of vitamin D is critical for humans as it influences the activity of more than 300 different genes. This is why vitamin D deficiency is such a serious matter.
"It seems that today, vitamin D has something to do with all illnesses. US researchers showed already 20 years ago that colon cancer is related to low levels of vitamin D. Later studies have provided more evidence of the link between vitamin D deficiency and various cancers," Ilari Paakkari says.
He adds that psoriasis, MS and various infections are also affected by vitamin D levels in the body.
"The flu season hits in the winter because that's when our vitamin D levels are at their lowest," says Paakkari.
Of the body's vitamin D, 90 per cent is produced by the body when skin is exposed to the UVB radiation in sunlight. In winter, Finns receive no vitamin D in this way and our diet cannot supplement the deficit. Until now we have not known exactly how common vitamin D deficiency is among Finns. Experts believe that during the winter months the calcidol levels, which indicate vitamin D levels in the body, of people living in Finland may fall much lower than studies have shown. This is backed by a recent study.
"We recently conducted a vitamin D study among school children. It showed that 70 per cent of school children suffered from vitamin D deficiency in the winter," says Outi Mäkitie.
"Official recommendations too low"
Current recommendations state that only children and those over 60 years of age should take vitamin D supplements all year round. The recommendation for those between 18 and 60 is 7.5 micrograms per day from the beginning of October to the end of March. Studies indicate that this is not enough, according to Ilari Paakkari.
"A recent study on members of an Antarctic expedition shows that in conditions without sunlight, a daily vitamin D supplement of 40 micrograms is required in order to sustain the level of the vitamin in blood."
Outi Mäkitie believes that taking supplements all year round would prevent many national illnesses such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
"Orion is glad that there is increasing awareness of vitamin D. We want to do our part in this debate to improve the well-being of the Finnish population," says Paula Rytilä.
d-vitamiini.fi (Finnish only)
Vitamin D study by the National Institute for Health and Welfare*: www.laakarilehti.fi/files/lehdisto/SLL42013_miettinen_191212.pdf (in Finnish)
Paula Rytilä, Docent, Orion's Medical Director and Specialist in Respiratory Diseases and Allergy.
Ilari Paakkari, physician and Professor of Pharmacology (emer.), Institute of Biomedicine, University of Helsinki. Paakkari has given numerous presentations and trained others on the correct use of vitamin D and its health benefits.
Outi Mäkitie, Specialist in Paediatric Endocrinology, HUCH Children's Hospital, docent, has years of experience in children's bone diseases and the role of vitamin D in these diseases.