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If there is one thing that has become abundantly clear during the pandemic, it’s that our body desperately needs vitamin D to function properly. Not only does the sunshine vitamin, help strengthen our bones—its also helps the immune system to function properly. But there’s another thing that vitamin D does: it can predict your future health.
Before you accuse us of making this up, let us tell you that a research from Belgium has found that vitamin D levels in the blood may be a better predictor of future health risks in the elderly—especially men.
The study suggests that a free, precursor form of vitamin D found circulating in the bloodstream is a more accurate predictor of future health and disease risk, than the often measured total vitamin D.
Since vitamin D deficiency is associated with multiple serious health conditions as we get older, this study suggests that further investigation into vitamin D levels and their link to poor health may be a promising area for further research.
The study is European but a vitamin D deficiency is rampant even in India
Vitamin D deficiency is common in Europe, especially in elderly people. Vitamin D deficiency is on a rise in India too, with a 2019 pan-India study suggesting that about 80 to 90% of Indians don’t have the required levels of the vitamin. Yikes!
Low levels of the sunshine vitamin have been associated with a higher risk for developing many ageing-related diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and osteoporosis.
However, there are several forms, or metabolites, of vitamin D in the body but it is the total amount of these metabolites that are most often used to assess the vitamin D status of people.
The prohormone, 25-dihydroxyvitamin D is converted to 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D, which is considered the active form of vitamin D in our body. More than 99% of all vitamin D metabolites in our blood are bound to proteins, so only a very small fraction is free to be biologically active. Therefore the free, active forms may be a better predictor of current and future health.
Dr Leen Antonio from University Hospitals Leuven in Belgium and a team of colleagues investigated whether the free metabolites of vitamin D were better health predictors, using data from the European Male Ageing Study, which was collected from 1,970 community-dwelling men, aged 40-79, between 2003 and 2005.
The levels of total and free metabolites of vitamin D were compared with their current health status, adjusting for potentially confounding factors, including age, body mass index, smoking and self-reported health. The total levels of both free and bound vitamin D metabolites were associated with a higher risk of death. However, only free 25-hydroxyvitamin D was predictive of future health problems and not free 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D.
Dr Antonio explains, “These data further confirm that vitamin D deficiency is associated with a negative impact on general health and can be predictive of a higher risk of death.”
The study is observational, so we need to take it a with a pinch of salt
The study makes it abundantly clear that the standard measures of checking vitamin D levels are not relevant when it comes to predicting future health risks. Healthcare professionals need to check for vitamin D metabolites, which is not the norm—at least in testing labs that we usually go to.
So getting yourself tested or popping vitamin D pills won’t help. But if you want to take care of your vitamin D levels, then spend half an hour daily in the morning sun to soak up some sunshine and eat vitamin D rich foods.