“It’s become apparent over the last five or six years that Vitamin D has a major role to play in the immune system,” Says Dr Paul Collinson, consultant chemical pathologist. “Mild degrees of Vitamin D deficiency are mainly associated with general aches and pains, so it can make people feel under the weather, but Vitamin D is good for your immune system in general and can help to fight things like cancer.”
It is well-known that most of the Vitamin D used in the body is generated from skin exposure to the sun. London, of course, does not benefit from the sunniest of climates, and when combined with an increasing indoor culture and poor diet, the consequence for the individual can be Vitamin D deficiency.
Southwest London, particularly areas like Tooting, has a substantial ethnic population, many of whom have high levels of melanin in their skin, which requires longer exposure to the sun in order to make the Vitamin D the body needs. Many local people also have a culture of covering up their skin, reducing exposure to the sun, which creates higher incidence of Vitamin D deficiency.
“There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that people don’t take on enough vitamin D in their diets and that we should be supplementing ourselves, especially those in high-risk minority groups. Having the correct amount of Vitamin D is important, but Vitamin D deficiency is very difficult to detect without a test, because most people are happy to shrug off the symptomatic aches and pains, thinking little of it.” He explains.
In extreme cases the condition has been known to cause osteomalacia and rickets, says Dr Collinson, “The important thing is to make people more aware of Vitamin D deficiency, because it is eminently treatable with simple over-the-counter supplements.” He says.
St George’s provides comprehensive testing for Vitamin D deficiency, processing around 100 tests per day at present, with capacity to increase. “I would encourage all local GPs to be aware that testing is available at St George’s Hospital. It’s a routine test – the same blood sample you would use for urea and electrolyte, liver function or thyroid function – and we can give the answers very quickly. We benefit from a huge amount of clinical experience here and have a total Vitamin D assay, so we measure both Vitamin D2 and D3,” Says Dr Collinson.
The objective of the pathology service at St George’s is to fit the service to the needs of the patient, not to the needs of the laboratory, so the team focuses on providing rapid turnaround times for access to tests that people may need within 24 or 48 hours – or sooner if there’s a clinical need. “The service is very efficient, so in some cases a patient can come in one day and we’ll have the results available the following morning,” Says Dr Collinson. “What I would say to local people, and our local GPs, is that Vitamin D deficiency is very common, but it’s easily detectable, with testing done locally in a fast, efficient service at St George’s Hospital.”
For more information about Vitamin D testing at St George’s, contact the clinical blood sciences team on 020 8725 5468 / 5470.
A comprehensive list of tests at St George’s is available in the pathology test database. To access the database, or for more information about pathology services at St George’s, visit www.pathology.stgeorges.nhs.uk