The serious risks of vitamin D deficiency

Researchers in the UK and Canada have discovered that vitamin D deficiency is linked to autoimmune diseases and cancer. The findings have important implications for public health, in particular prenatal care.

Advances in DNA sequencing techniques have made possible for researchers to study the interactions between proteins and DNA in greater depth and with a higher degree of accuracy than ever before. These powerful tools are helping to shed light on genetic susceptibility to several diseases.

Recent studies have indicated that vitamin D intake could play an important role in susceptibility to MS, type-1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Besides, it has long been established that vitamin D deficiency, which affects around 1 billion people worldwide, can lead to rickets-induced pelvic contraction and perinatal death. The deficiency can be avoided usually by getting enough sunshine or eating oily fish regularly.

The vitamin D receptor (VDR) binds to parts of the human genome, where it influences the activity of individual genes. In this latest study, the researchers used a combination of techniques to create a genomic map of where VDR interacts with DNA, influencing how our genes make proteins.

Researchers were able to identify 2,776 sites of VDR binding and 229 genes whose expression was directly linked to vitamin D. The sites were concentrated near a number of genes that have been associated with susceptibility to MS, Crohn's disease, systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic lymphocytic leukaemia and colorectal cancer.

The findings support the hypothesis that vitamin D interacts with genes in the pathogenesis of these diseases, and underscores the serious risks of vitamin D deficiency, especially for individuals who may be genetically predisposed to be sensitive to insufficiency.