Due to Qatar’s extreme seasonal heat, people living here typically spend less time outdoors in the summer, and thus get less sun – putting them at risk for Vitamin D deficiency.
Those lacking Vitamin D can experience a host of health-related problems, including fatigue, hair loss and depression.
To tackle the problem, Dr. Elham Sherif, assistant professor of Biomedical Sciences at QU’s Department of Health Sciences, is leading a new awareness campaign on the subject.
Vitamin D can be gleaned from sources other than the sun, including foods such as oily fish. But Sherif said you would need to eat this around five times a week to get to the recommended level of 30-80 nanograms/ml.
Speaking to Doha News, she said that’s why sun is the best prescription:
“Qatar has a problem – we estimate the majority of people in the country are deficient – and many seriously deficient – in Vitamin D.
“We are advising people that they need to expose their legs and arms – without sunblock, which reflects 99 percent of UVB rays – to the sun for between 5 and 15 minutes a day, three times a week. This is the best way to get your levels up to the amount your body needs.”
Maintaining the right level of Vitamin D in your body has numerous health benefits, including hardening the bones (preventing osteoporosis) and boosting the immune system.
Vitamin D also has been found to have anti-carcinogenic and antioxidant properties, while a deficiency has been linked to mental health issues such as schizophrenia and dementia.
Data on Qatar
Recent studies state that the majority of people in Qatar may be lacking Vitamin D – which is in fact is not a vitamin at all, but a pro-hormone.
In a sample of female students at QU, Sherif found that only 2.8 percent had sufficient levels of Vitamin D (with 30 to 80ng/ml), while 51 percent were found to be severely deficient (with levels of less than 10ng/ml).
These results correlate with another study that took place in 2008, testing 340 healthcare workers at Hamad Medical Corporation for their levels of Vitamin D. Only five percent of the men tested and two percent of the women had desirable levels of Vitamin D.
Sherif said the results of these samples are reflective of Qatar’s wider society. She added that women – particularly covered women – and the elderly are more at risk for Vitamin D deficiency.
Qatar’s sometimes dusty weather also prevents the body from absorbing the nutrient, she said.
Tackling Vitamin D deficiency
Those who are found to be deficient can be treated with supplements prescribed by their doctor – either by injection for people whose levels are seriously low, or tablets.
However, Sherif said the key to reach and maintain the right levels of Vitamin D is most easily done through sun exposure, which also stores for longer in the body than supplements.
She recently organised an awareness-raising seminar for QU students about the issue, and is planning to host a major conference on the subject next year.
Do you get enough sun in Doha? Thoughts?