Contact: David Olejarz
Henry Ford Health System
Arab-American women need supplement to boost dangerously low vitamin D levels
Arab-American women living in
southeast Detroit whose conservative dress limits their exposure to sun
should be taking a vitamin D supplement to boost their dangerously low
serum levels, according to a study published by Henry Ford Hospital
Researchers found that all 87 women involved in a
small study showed vitamin D levels averaging 8.5 ng/mL (nanograms per
milliliter) for those who wore western dress to 4 ng/mL for those who
wore the hijab, modest dress with a headscarf. A healthy vitamin D
level is 30 ng/mL or higher.
Also, the women consumed little
dietary sources of vitamin D. Forty-seven women reported drinking any
milk on a weekly basis, but the amount they consume isn't significant
enough to boost their vitamin D levels, researchers say.
The study is published in the January/February issue of
It is believed to be the largest study on the prevalence of vitamin D
deficiency in one of the largest concentrations of Arab Americans in
Raymond Hobbs, M.D., a Henry Ford
Internal Medicine physician and lead author of the study, described the
vitamin D deficiency in the women as "much greater than we would have
"When people live where the weather is colder and
they are more covered with clothing, they depend on their diet for
their vitamin D," Dr. Hobbs says. "Unfortunately, most food with the
exception of oily fish and vitamin D fortified milk has very little
vitamin D. The women in our study drank very little milk, fortified
orange juice and had decreased sun exposure because of their dress."
levels of vitamin D are linked to increased risk of cancer, diabetes
and Crohn's disease, Dr. Hobbs says. Vitamin D is needed to maintain
normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. It also helps in the
absorption of calcium, helping to form and maintain strong bones.
"Our findings are consistent with those of similar studies in other
parts of the world and underscore the point that there are pockets of
individuals who are at risk for culturally mediated health problems,"
Dr. Hobbs says. "We need to raise their awareness of this deficiency
and to offer them options for increasing their vitamin D levels. A
vitamin D supplement is a start."
More than 490,000 Arab
Americans reside in southeast Michigan, the largest population anywhere
outside the Middle East. For the study, researchers looked at
Arab-American women in the city of Dearborn, a southeast Detroit suburb
in which Arab Americans comprise one third of the 100,000 population.
exposure is the single most important factor in producing vitamin D in
the body. For example, sun bathing for a period of time will produce
10,000- 20,000 international units, a measure of vitamin potency, or
the equivalent of 100 glasses of fortified milk.
study, researchers recruited women who attended an ethnic supermarket
in Dearborn during the course of two Saturdays in April 2007 to search
for correlations with dress, diet, use of vitamin D-fortified foods and
vitamin supplements. They were interviewed to assess dress, medical
history, medication use, clinical symptoms associated with vitamin D
deficiency, consumption of fortified milk or fortified orange juice and
vitamin supplements. Blood samples also were taken onsite and analyzed
for levels of vitamin D and parathyroid hormone and other minerals.
Hobbs says Henry Ford is launching an awareness campaign to educate the
Arab American community in Dearborn about the prevalence of vitamin D
deficiency and offer options for addressing the problem.
theorize that Arab American women avoid milk because of reported higher
incidence of lactose intolerance in their population.
goal is to help them understand that by taking these preventive
measures now, they can avoid serious health problems in the future,"
Dr. Hobbs says.
The study was funded by Henry Ford Hospital and the DiaSorin Co.