How accurate is Vitamin D Testing?

21 December 2017

Lab Chat

The importance of vitamin D for our bodies is becoming clearer, with a growing number of diseases being linked with a deficiency. With this in mind, it’s highly important to have an accurate way of testing patients’ vitamin D levels both to diagnose their deficiency, as well as linking it with other problems. Read on to see how UAE scientists have boosted testing for vitamin D.

Why is vitamin D important?

Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium – one of the main requirements for strong bones. That’s why a lack of it is known to cause weak bones. However, it’s also found in cells all over the body, which is why it’s been linked to a number of other health complications. Weak muscles, fatigue, poor healing on wounds, hair loss and even poor mental health are all linked to a lack of vitamin D.

The main source of vitamin D is sunlight. Just an hour of exposure every day can provide most people’s daily needs. However, in winter, some people may require supplements. This is also the case for people who cover most of their skin, or cannot get into the sun. The US-based Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) calculated a recommended dietary allowance of around 15 micrograms of vitamin D per day as a supplement to sunlight exposure.

So, how do you ensure you get enough? Oily fish like salmon, mackerel and tuna are good sources, along with red meat, egg yolks and fortified foods, which can all be incorporated into your every-day diet. Dietary supplements are also useful, but should only be taken following doctors’ advice.

Measuring vitamin D levels

Of course, before recommending extra vitamin D intake, doctors need to identify a vitamin D deficiency in patients. Unfortunately, vitamin D takes over ten different forms in our blood, making testing more difficult. At present, testing methods cannot distinguish between different vitamin D metabolites – some of which are essentially useless – meaning it’s hard to determine whether or not someone has a deficiency.

In a breakthrough, Scientists at UAE University (UAEU) have created a new method using liquid chromatography mass spectrometry. Chromatography has previously been used for vitamin D testing. However, the new method focuses on separating the different metabolites, allowing doctors to distinguish between them.

“This new technique is capable of accounting for the misleading measures due to metabolites that don’t have any benefit or use for the person, and so it gives the whole picture,” explained UAEU’s Dr Shah, who has been testing the new method on real patients. “The tests showed that our method works, with the results set to be published hopefully by the end of this month.”

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