Extreme fatigue. Chronic bone, back, and muscle pain. Digestive issues. Endless flus and colds. Even depression and anxiety, obesity, and hair loss. Could be anything, right? Well no. These may well be symptoms of something called the Greek Paradox. It’s only now being studied, and it’s all to do with the lack of one simple thing… Vitamin D.

A recent study conducted by The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association reported an astoundingly high figure of vitamin D deficiency worldwide: approximately 1 billion individuals, nearly 15 per cent of the world’s population, are vitamin D deficient or insufficient. And while, in the rest of the world, anything from a genetic predisposition to gastric surgery, darker skin or even simply being female puts you at risk of lower vitamin D absorption, the worst of the epidemic is in the hotter countries – particularly in Cyprus.

“Only one third of the population in both Cyprus and Greece has normal levels of vitamin D”

“We’re beginning to realise the whole nation is at risk,” says Dr George Samoutis, Associate Professor of Primary Care at the University of Nicosia Medical School and an expert in chronic disease management and healthcare quality improvement. “We’ve conducted studies which estimate that only one third of the population in both Cyprus and Greece has normal levels of vitamin D,” he reveals, “a paradox which we theorise can be explained by the lifestyle changes of the last few decades.”

For thousands of years, he expounds, a large percentage of Cypriots worked in agriculture, and this sun exposure has led to modified absorption to protect against vitamin D toxicity. Today, however, with indoor activities and climate control the norm, “we theorise that there’s a delay in the adjustment of the genes. Vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency is a very real problem here in Cyprus.”

Another joint study looked at 2594 Cypriot subjects over a five-year period, “in order to examine the relationship between potential risk factors and vitamin D levels.” 69.28% of the Cypriot subjects (and 73.07% of the Greek) were found to have inadequate levels of vitamin D (generally recognised as anything below 30 ng/ml, though many medics now suggest anything below 50 ng/ml is deficient), and concluded that “an early identification of vitamin D deficiency is now considered the cornerstone of preventive medicine.”

“Low levels of vitamin D have been implicated in any number of chronic diseases, including asthma, diabetes, fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, hypertension, depression, anxiety, and Alzheimer’s”

Preventive? Yes. Because low levels of vitamin D have been implicated in any number of chronic diseases, including asthma, diabetes, fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, hypertension, depression, anxiety, and Alzheimer’s. The Vitamin D Council (a scientist-led group promoting vitamin D deficiency awareness) suggests vitamin D treatment could be helpful in treating or preventing autism, autoimmune disease, chronic pain, neuromuscular diseases, and osteoporosis. “And there’s also,” adds Dr Samoutis, “a strong risk of vitamin D deficiency increasing the risk of prostate, breast, colon and pancreatic cancers. It’s been estimated that an intake of just 1000 IU of Vitamin D a day can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer by up to 50 per cent!” he adds.

The list of links is growing, it seems, along with the research. There’s a message here, especially as we wallow in winter. Genetic predispositions to absorption issues aside, everyone’s levels of vitamin D are generally highest post-summer, in September. But as the cold weather begins, and we all head inside, our levels tend to fall. A simple blood test of your vitamin D levels (something that’s so simple, in fact, that it’s often overlooked in favour of more specialised diagnoses) can tell you if your levels are low. And if they are, well, any GP can prescribe just what you need to make sure you’re getting enough of this vital sunshine vitamin!

To find out whether you might be Vitamin D deficient, click here

ALIX NORMAN is a Freelance Writer & Editor based in Cyprus. For more information, visit www.alixnorman.com

full text originally published in The Cyprus Mail

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