Health29 Aug 2009 01:09 pm
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that can be obtained from sun exposure, a few food sources (such as fortified milk and canned tuna) and supplements. It plays a fundamental role in the regulation of a number of organ systems, but its primary role in the body is to bolster the flow of calcium in the bloodstream (making it crucial for bone growth and remodeling). Thus, a person suffering from a Vitamin D deficiency, or hypovitaminisis D, can develop brittle, soft or misshaped bones over time. This deficiency can lead to rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults (and possibly contributes to osteoporosis), to name a few. There are a number of risk factors for Vitamin D deficiency, including chronic illness, old age, obesity and darker skin (melanin acts as a natural “sun block” which inhibits the production and absorption of the vitamin).
Interestingly, a number of studies have demonstrated that Muslim women who wear burqas, or full body coverings during all of their outdoor activity, run an increased risk of developing Vitamin D deficiency because of their lack of exposure to sunlight. This has proven to be a notable problem amongst Muslim immigrants who have settled in countries with cloudy climates, such as Ireland or Great Britain, where sunny days are already scarce. This is less of an issue in hotter climates (like the Middle East), where the strong sunlight is better able to compensate for the full-body garb.
The Irish medical community has noted a sharp rise in the number of burqa-clad women (and their newborns) suffering from Vitamin D deficiency. In response, it has issued a number of warnings that Muslim women who wear the burqa are at an increased risk of pelvic fractures during childbirth and that babies born to Vitamin D deficient mothers are significantly more likely to suffer from postnatal seizures, growth retardation, muscle weakness and fractures. Moreover, members of this community tend to have a darker complexion then their indigenous counterparts (both the British and Irish are notorious for their light (some say pasty) complexions), and darker skin can produce as little as 1 percent of the Vitamin D that fair skin produces. Thus, it is even more crucial for darker skinned people to monitor their diets and sun exposure in order to avoid Vitamin D deficiency, especially in overcast northern climates. In order to distance itself from potential controversy, a prominent UK spokesman took great pains to stress the fact that their recommendations were not aimed at interfering with a woman’s right to wear a hijab, but that it is crucial that Muslim women make an effort to get some direct sunlight for their health.
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