Research Insight – Vitamin D Needed for Gene Health
Oxford University researchers have recently mapped out the points at which Vitamin D directly interacts with over 200 genes in our DNA, and subsequently thousands of genes via indirect transcription processes, making Vitamin D one of the most significant nutrient/hormone compounds to the human body.
Specifically, the researchers showed that Vitamin D had a significant effect on the activity of 229 genes, including IRF8, that has been previously associated with MS, and PTPN2, which has been associated with Crohn’s Disease and type 1 Diabetes.
Overall, a total of 2,776 binding sites for the vitamin D receptor were found along the length of the genome, and were unexpectedly concentrated near a number of genes known to be associated with the susceptibility to autoimmune conditions such as MS, Crohn’s disease, Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis as well as to Cancers such as Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia and Colorectal Cancer.
It is now estimated that 1 billion people worldwide do not have sufficient vitamin D, and there is indeed a growing body of evidence indicating that vitamin D deficiency increases an individual’s susceptibility to autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis (MS), rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes, as well as certain cancers and even dementia.
Co-author Dr Sreeram Ramagopalan added: ‘There is now evidence supporting a role for vitamin D in the susceptibility to a host of diseases. Vitamin D supplements during pregnancy and the early years could have a beneficial effect on a child’s health in later life.’
Previously research has suggested that a lack of vitamin D can affect bone development in pregnant mothers, and poor bone health can be fatal to both mother and child at birth, hence there are selective pressures in favour of people who are able to produce adequate vitamin D.
Supporting this, the authors 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.
Which lead to the statement by Professor George Ebers, of Clinical Neurology at the University of Oxford that, ‘Vitamin D status is potentially one of the most powerful selective pressures on the genome in relatively recent times.