expert: Dr Afrozul Haq, scientist, SKMC

Dubai Consumption of fortified milk alone is not sufficient to fight shockingly low levels of Vitamin D3 among the UAE population, an Abu Dhabi-based scientist and pioneering researcher on Vitamin D3 has warned.

“Most milk products available in the UAE are not sufficiently fortified with Vitamin D3, but having said that, consumption of fortified milk alone cannot cure deficiency for sure,” said Dr Afrozul Haq, Senior Clinical Scientist, Sheikh Khalifa Medical City (SKMC).

Dr Haq said an extensive study he conducted with over 100,000 patients at SKMC revealed that over 65 per cent of women and 60 per cent of men in the country suffer from Vitamin D3 deficiency, down from 80 per cent in 2006 when the tests began. Worse, patients were found to be 90 per cent deficient on their first visit.

The alarming figures have raised serious concerns about how the Vitamin D3 deficiency problem is being tackled. Dr Haq said Vitamin D3 is a steroidal hormone and is the only vitamin produced by the body on direct exposure to the sun. In case of deficiency, supplements need to be taken and fortification is an added bonus.

As nutrient fact labels on milk bottles in the UAE reveal, most dairies — Al Amarai, Al Rawabi, Marmum and Al Ain — add 400 International Units of Vitamin D3 to a litre of milk, which is the recommended daily allowance, according to bodies like the GCC Standardisation Organisation in Saudi Arabia and Institute of Medicine in Canada.

But Dr Haq said: “Researchers don’t agree with this because the dose is very low, especially since such a high percentage of the UAE population is suffering from vitamin D3 deficiency. We need a minimum of 800 International Units per day. And by that yardstick, we should be drinking two litres of milk which is not practical.”

A spokesperson for Al Ain Dairy said as things stand, it is up to dairy manufacturers to fortify their products or not. “We think it is an essential addition to our milk products for the long-term health benefits of our consumers. We only add the RDA amount and our products are regulated by the Food Control Authority.”

According to Dr Haq, the optimum level of Vitamin D3 in the blood of an adult should be at 75-200 nmol/litre for good bone health and to guard against non-skeletal diseases. He said when the level falls below 75, it can contribute to osteoporosis, mutliple sclerosis, cardiovascular and neurological disorders, autoimmune disease, Alzeimers, tuberculosis, even diabetes and cancer. Similarly, when the level crosses 200, it can lead to toxicity and problems such as hypercalcimia, high blood pressure, headaches, fatigue, loss of appetite, excessive thirst and polyurea, severe itching, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, kidney damage and joint and muscle pain.

“Therefore, it is important to establish an individual’s baseline through a simple laboratory test and make necessary corrections.”

Dr Haq said the main source for Vitamin D3 is exposure to the sun. “If a person is severely deficient in D3 (less than 10 nmol/litre), he would need 2,000 International Units of supplements per day. If the level is 25-50 nmol/litre, which is the average in the UAE, the requirement would be 1,000 International Units per day.”