Vitamin D deficiency linked to autoimmune diseases and cancer

Oxford researchers have shown how vitamin D interacts with our DNA and how a deficiency in it brings on a slew of serious diseases.

You might look like the cast of Jersey Shore if you spent too much time in the sun. On the upside, exposing your skin to the sun will ensure that you're getting a healthy dose of vitamin D.

One billion people don't get enough sun. It's not a matter of vanity, but rather a public health issue.

In fact, British researchers found that not getting enough vitamin D can make you more susceptible to diseases down the line.

Scientists have mapped parts of the genome that are influenced by vitamin D. With some 200 genes found to interact with vitamin D, a deficiency in the vitamin can have serious consequences.

"Our study shows quite dramatically the wide-ranging influence that vitamin D exerts over our health," Andreas Heger from the MRC Functional Genomics Unit at Oxford University said in a statement.

We know that vitamin D deficiency can lead to rickets. But a lack of vitamin D can also bring on less obvious ones to the naked eye:

  • multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • type 1 diabetes
  • cancers
  • dementia

The researches used a DNA sequencing technology to find out where the vitamin D receptor interacted with the genome. Basically the receptor is a protein. It is activated by vitamin D and hooks up to DNA. This affects other proteins that are made.

The receptor can bind to nearly three thousand sites on the genome, in regions that are linked to autoimmune conditions and certain cancers.

People of European and Asian decent have the marked genetic changes, as seen with light skin and hair. Evolutionarily speaking, researchers think that as people migrated to parts of the world with less sun, they had to adapt with lighter skin, so they could produce more vitamin D.

"Vitamin D status is potentially one of the most powerful selective pressures on the genome in relatively recent times,’ Oxford professor George Ebers said in a statement. "Our study appears to support this interpretation and it may be we have not had enough time to make all the adaptations we have needed to cope with our northern circumstances."

Even as summer ends, you might want to think about taking vitamin D supplements to help protect against these serious diseases, another Oxford researcher suggested.

According to U.S. News & World Report, the recommendations are:

People should consume between 200 and 600 international units of vitamin D daily, according to a U.S. Institute of Medicine guideline, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 400 international units daily. The U.S. guideline is currently under review, and many experts have called for an increase in the recommended intake levels.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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