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Kuwait Doctors Warn of Vitamin D Deficiency ‘Epidemic’ Throughout Gulf


Kuwait City, Kuwait – Kuwaiti women this week came together for the fifth annual Mother’s Day celebration in the country’s capital, organised by the unit of endocrinology –Amiri Hospital.

Under the patronage of Sheikha Sharifa Sulaiman al-Jasem, wife of His Highness the Crown Prince of Kuwait, the annual event brings together key women in the country to honour and acknowledge mothers, with local doctors taking the opportunity to discuss medical issues relevant to women’s health.

“It’s a very social atmosphere where women can come together and celebrate motherhood, and increase their awareness of health issues that affect women in this country,” said Nadia Al Ali, Head of Unit of Endocrinology and Metabolism at Amiri Hospital, Kuwait and organizer and speaker at the event.

“Each year’s lecture targets an area of health that we consider important for public awareness, especially for women, and the 2012 edition of this event focused on Omega-3 fatty acids which are essential to health, with benefits that include reducing cardiovascular disease risk and increasing cognitive function, among many others,” she added.

The event also offered basic medical services for women including blood pressure monitoring, Body Mass Index testing, and screening for osteoporosis using an ankle ultrasound machine.The machine, donated by Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis, measures bone mineral density (BMD) in the ankle, and if found to be low, the patient is transferred to Dr Ali’s clinic for further testing.

Insufficient vitamin D intake is a growing problem in the region, due to lack of exposure to sunlight, leading to an increased risk of the debilitating bone disease and associated bone fractures.

“The Middle East has the highest vitamin D deficiency worldwide, and this statistic is not decreasing at all and in fact we see younger people every day with severely low levels of the mineral. Younger patients have lower BMD levels compared to the standards, and fractures are occurring at a lower age than the equivalent in the Caucasian population,” Dr Ali said.

“Unfortunately the Gulf is synonymous now with bad lifestyle choices that increase the risk of contracting osteoporosis, such as lack of physical activity, bad diet, and reduced sun exposure due to the extremely hot summers,” she added.

Osteoporosis affects one in two women and one in four men over the age of 50, higher than the incidence of breast cancer and prostate cancer respectively, with the rate of osteoporosis-related fractures almost doubling over the last decade (1). Statistics suggest an osteoporotic fracture occurs every three seconds, with one in three women and one in five men over 50 years old expected to be burdened with a fracture at some point(2).

“Once someone gets their first osteoporosis-related fracture, it doubles the risk for the second. Once a bone is fractured for the second time, it triples the risk for the third, and so on. BMD tests are therefore crucial in the Middle East for people over 60, which is still younger than the international standards of 65 for women and 70 for men due to the increased risk factors here,” added Dr Al Ali, who is also a Clinical Member of the Committee for the Prevention and Treatment of Osteoporosis, a committee under the umbrella of Kuwait’s Ministry of Health. The committee established the first Kuwait-specific guidelines for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis and also made available all drugs licensed for the treatment of osteoporosis.

Vitamin D deficiency is the result of lack of exposure to the sun and poor dietary intake of foods containing the vitamin, such as fish and eggs. Vitamin D is essential for bone health as it assists in the absorption of calcium, without which the bones become less dense and fracture easily.

Many people do not know they have osteoporosis until they suffer a fracture and undergo a Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) scan to check their bone density.

Treating osteoporosis involves reducing bone resorption using bisphosphonate drugs, which are either taken weekly or monthly orally. However, a new medication, which is given via an infusion, only needs to be administered once a year, so helping to improve medication compliance.

Spending 10 minutes per day, exposing 40 percent of the body area such as the back, arms and legs to the sun as well as eating sufficient foods containing vitamin D, are both recommended actions for helping to maintain vitamin D levels within the normal range that prevents osteoporosis.

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