The evidence continues to pour in about the importance of Vitamin D in preventing and healing disease. Now, a new genome study from Oxford University has linked vitamin D deficiency to a wide range of diseases and has shown the extent to which vitamin D interacts with our DNA.
In the study just published in the journal Genome Research, scientists mapped the points at which vitamin D interacts with our DNA and identified over 200 genes directly influenced by vitamin D. The study scientists used new DNA sequencing technology to create a map of vitamin D receptor binding. The vitamin D receptor is a protein, which is activated by vitamin D. The protein attaches itself to DNA and influences what proteins are made from our genetic code.
The researchers found 2,776 binding sites for the vitamin D receptor along the length of the human genome. The binding sites were found to be unusually concentrated near a number of genes, which have been associated with susceptibility to autoimmune conditions such as MS, Crohn’s disease, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as to cancers such as chronic lymphocytic leukemia and colorectal cancer.
Vitamin D has a significant effect on 229 genes
The study also demonstrated that vitamin D had a significant effect on the activity of 229 genes including IRF8, which has been previously associated with MS, and PTPN2, which has been associated with Crohn’s disease and type 1 diabetes.
Dr Andreas Heger from the MRC Functional Genomics Unit at Oxford University, and one of the lead authors of the study, stated: “Our study shows quite dramatically the wide-ranging influence that vitamin D exerts over our health.”
An estimated 1 billion people worldwide do not have sufficient vitamin D, primarily due to insufficient sunlight exposure and poor diet. The main source of vitamin D in the body comes from exposing the skin to sunlight, which can result in the body producing up to 20,000 units of vitamin D in a single day. Consumption of oily fish can also provide vitamin D, albeit much less than sunlight.
Previous research has suggested that lighter skin color and hair color evolved in populations moving to parts of the globe with less sun in order to optimize production of vitamin D in the body. It is probable that skin lightening as humans migrated out of Africa resulted from the necessity to be able to make more vitamin D and prevent rickets and other health problems which might threaten the risk of fatality of both mother and unborn child, and thus effectively end maternal lineages which were unable to find ways of increasing availability of the vitamin.
The new study supports this hypothesis, as it found a significant number of vitamin D receptor binding sites in regions of the genome with genetic changes more commonly found in people of European and Asian descent.
Studies show Vitamin D has MANY health benefits
“Vitamin D status is potentially one of the most powerful selective pressures on the genome in relatively recent times,” said Professor George Ebers, one of the senior authors of the study paper and a Professor of Clinical Neurology at the University of Oxford. “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.”
Another study author, Sreeram Ramagopalan, added “Considerations of vitamin D supplementation as a preventative measure for these diseases are strongly warranted.”
A wealth of studies on vitamin D have reported many benefits of the essential vitamin, including:
- It is crucial for the absorption and metabolism of calcium and phosphorous, which have various functions, especially the maintenance of healthy bones.
- It is an immune system regulator.
- It may be an important way to arm the immune system against disorders like the common cold.
- It may reduce the risk of developing multiple sclerosis.
- Vitamin D may have a key role in helping the brain to keep working well in later life
- Vitamin D is linked to maintaining a healthy body weight
- It can reduce the severity and frequency of asthma symptoms as well as the likelihood of hospitalizations due to asthma.
- It has been shown to reduce the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis in women.
- A form of vitamin D could be one of our body’s main protections against damage from low levels of radiation.
- People with adequate levels of vitamin D have a significantly lower risk of developing cancer.
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