Positive effects that vitamin D has on bones has been known for a long time. The connection with rickets (the ultimate bone weakening disease caused by profound vitamin D deficiencies in childhood) was discovered a century ago. The connection with osteoporosis wasn’t begun to be appreciated until late in the 20th century. It has only been in the last ten years that the strength of the connection has been appreciated. During this time the other non-bone effects of vitamin D have begun to be realized based on facts discovered by vitamin D research. (For a summary, see #7, Update of Vitamin D -2010.) A study published August 24, 2010, in the online version of Genome Research helps explain how one simple compound produced by the sun can have such a widespread effect.
The study used DNA technology to create a map of where Vitamin D receptors are in our genes. They found 2,776 binding sites for the vitamin D receptor. These sites were concentrated near genes associated with many autoimmune conditions such as MS, Crohn’s disease, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, type I diabetes, and also various cancers. In all, this study showed that vitamin D had a significant effect on the activity of 229 genes. Compared to what is known about all other vitamins and other chemicals in the human body, these findings are profound. The importance of these findings is magnified by the appreciation that there is a pandemic of vitamin D deficiency worldwide due to insufficient exposure of humans to the sun. Studies have also shown that vitamin D levels in Americans are actually decreasing over the past 3 decades.
One of the authors of the study, Dr. Sreeram Ramagopalan, from the University of Oxford in Great Britain, has made critical observations about the meaning of this study. Vitamin D supplements during pregnancy and during infancy could have widespread beneficial effects on a child’s health later in life. (A study in Finland several decades ago showed correcting low levels with vitamin D supplements resulted in an incredible 85% reduction in the incidence of type I diabetes during childhood.)
Unfortunately the United States is behind in making full use of the last decade’s vitamin D discoveries. Dr. Ramagopalan makes the point that some countries such as France have taken steps to institute this as a routine public health measure.
What can you do? The recommendation that everyone should obtain a routine 25-hydroxyvitamin D level and correct any insufficiency is at least five years old, (and is still widely ignored). Spread the word to your friends and relatives, especially pregnant females,that they need to obtain a level and correct any insufficiency.