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August 24th, 2010
06:46 AM ET

Vitamin D affects autoimmune diseases and cancer genes

Vitamin D is believed to have a role in controlling genes linked to major diseases such as certain types of cancers, dementia, and autoimmune disorders, new research has found. While scientists aren’t exactly sure how vitamin D works with the genes, United Kingdom researchers are convinced the relationship exists. Their most recent findings were released Monday in Genome Research.

“Through large scale studies, we now have a good idea of the genes involved in common complex diseases such as type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and systemic lupus erythematosus,” wrote lead author, Dr. Sreeram Ramagopalan of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at Oxford University in an email to CNN.com. “We found that the genes involved in autoimmune disease and cancer were much more likely than chance to be regulated by vitamin D.”

“Our study provides the first genome wide map of the actions of vitamin D, showing just how important the vitamin is, by regulating thousands of genes,” Ramagopalan said.

Individuals can lack vitamin D because they don't get enough sunlight  or have a poor diet.  Foods such as milk, cheese and oily fish are sources of the nutrient.

Vitamin D deficiency has been increasingly viewed as a risk factor for illnesses and autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. About 1 billion people are estimated not to get enough of the vitamin.

Study: Pregnant women should get more vitamin D

Scientists from University of Oxford, The London School of Medicine and Dentistry and Simon Fraser University in Canada identified 2,776 gene positions occupied by the vitamin D receptor and 229 genes that changed in response to vitamin D.

“VDR [vitamin D receptor] was found to bind to a number of genes associated with autoimmune disease and cancer, in line with epidemiological data,” the researchers wrote.

“It seems that if you are born with genes that increase your risk of these diseases, vitamin D may act to correct this genetic predisposition,” wrote lead author, Ramagopalan. “That would be the take-home message.”


soundoff (55 Responses)
  1. Stacie Jackson

    Wow – nice to know. I have systemic lupus and although I take calcium that includes Vitamin D, I think I will purchase an extra Vitamin D supplement! Thanks!

    August 24, 2010 at 08:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Noelle Najjar

      Stacie – i too have lupus and have started taking 5,000 mg of vitamin D.

      August 24, 2010 at 09:10 | Report abuse |
    • Tish

      I too have systemic lupus and in addition to the Caltrate D that I take my dr has also prescribed a high dose vitamin D supplement that I take every Sunday.

      August 24, 2010 at 12:54 | Report abuse |
    • Michelle

      They should have checked your vitamin D levels immediately and put you on a D-3 supplement if you have lupus or any systemic autoimmune disease. I'm still being monitored to see if what I've got is just a mild case of undifferentiated connective tissue disease (lupus-lite, essentially), or if it's going to progress. My vitamin D-3 levels were insanely low, even though I'm an outdoorsy person who gets plenty of sun exposure and drinks lots of fortified milk. I take supplements now, and it helps a lot.

      August 24, 2010 at 13:25 | Report abuse |
    • jmead

      My doctor prescribed 50,000 units once a week. My mothers doctor did the same for her Alzheimer .

      August 24, 2010 at 14:12 | Report abuse |
    • nomoregbldgk

      don't forget magnesium for better absorption

      August 24, 2010 at 17:09 | Report abuse |
  2. rk

    Is it any coincidence that these autoimmune diseases are increasing after so many years of sunscreen use? No more than the fact that humans got lighter skin the farther north they migrated out of Africa. Vitamin D is crucial to survival. Go get some sun.

    August 24, 2010 at 09:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mr. Sunscreen Man

      The aluminum that blocks off the sun found in the sunscreen is highly beneficial when it soaks into your skin. It really does wonders to your genetic code when it is replaces the natural metals like Magnsium, Zinc and Iron.

      August 24, 2010 at 10:31 | Report abuse |
    • kathy

      Careful, there! We only need some sun, as you say, about 20 minutes a day. That is it. And, for lupus sufferers, stay OUT of the sun, as I am sure you are aware. You will only aggravate it.

      August 24, 2010 at 14:23 | Report abuse |
  3. The_Mick

    My doctor added a Vitamin D test to my blood tests a couple years ago and, in mid-Winter, it was severe low. I now take 2000 units/day and will take 3000 units during the cold months when I'm not outdoors often. Such doses are now considered fine for people of normal health. The tablets cost something like $7 for 500 tablets (1000u), so it's not an expensive proposition and it keeps me above the 32 ng/ml minimum desired level – and since studies have shown 40 is better than 32 and 50 is better than 40, in terms of health effects, there's no chance on "overdosing by taking 1000-3000 u per day tablets.

    August 24, 2010 at 09:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Phil

    A friend of mine told me about a magazine artical that said drinking a glass of vitamin D milk give you 200 international units of vitamin D, while spending 15 minutes in bright sunlight gives you 10,000 international units of vitamin D. So just a few minutes of sunlight every day is highy beneficial.

    August 24, 2010 at 09:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jeff

      That depends on your age, as you get older your skin does not convert sunlight in to Vitamin D. Vitamin D is actually not a vitamin but a steroid.

      August 24, 2010 at 12:13 | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      Yes, SENSIBLE sunlight exposure, i.e., 15-30 minutes between 10AM and 3PM 2 or 3 times a week (WITHOUT sunscreen!!) will provide all of the vitamin D that a person needs!!! A big reason for the viamin D deficiencies that we see now is do to no one going out in the sun without first applying sunscreen.

      August 24, 2010 at 12:30 | Report abuse |
  5. Kyle Gee

    I take 5000-10000 ui a day and have been doing so for two years. Since then I havn't had the flu or a cold once and I got them all the time in the winter before. BTW I've never had a flu shot.

    August 24, 2010 at 09:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • CommonGood

      You may want to pay attention to a harmful of side effect of excessive Vitamin D presence in the body. Some literature indicates that kidney stones formation is the threat of taking excess amounts of Vitamin D.

      August 24, 2010 at 14:14 | Report abuse |
    • Shutterbug77

      I agree with you CommonGood. Too much is possible and not a good thing. I have RA, my doctor put me on 50,000 ui / week because my levels this past winter were very low. She didn't recheck the levels for 6 months (because she forgot). Meanwhile I was having severe abdominal pain and nausea. I lost 17 pounds in two months. My doctor had no explanation for the problems. She sent me to a specialist. He performed an endoscopy and a colonoscopy, with clean results. Only after I did my own research did I find out that my symptoms could be from too much Vitamin D. We adjusted my Vitamin D and I have had no more problems. Be careful. Vitamin D (like most other medications) is not a wonder, cure-all drug.

      August 24, 2010 at 14:52 | Report abuse |
  6. Kathleen

    I've noticed that the more time spent in the sunlight the easier my perimenopausal symptoms are. I take a D supplement during the winter, because of Seasonal Affective Disorder, and perimenopause is very unpleasant. But when summer comes around and I'm getting plenty of real sunlight the hot flashes, night sweats, etc. back off significantly.

    August 24, 2010 at 09:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. jumoke

    AhSunshine, the amazing vitamin, available in abundance in the southern hemisphere. Notice how all those kids and poor people in my beloved Africa still manage to keep smiling and feeling happy even though they dont have the material wealth of western countries?

    August 24, 2010 at 10:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. CLS

    The experts who have studied vitamin D exclusively for decades insist on a blood level range of 50-80 ng/ml, 25 OH D, year round, and for life.

    This appears to provide the maximum benefit for people in normal health.

    The current level of "sufficiency" of 30 ng/ml, 25 OH D, will not provide the maximum health benefits of vitamin D.

    Patients and doctors alike should view all medical conditions first in terms of chronic vitamin D deficiency. While that sounds absurd the evidence supports this approach.

    Vitamin D deficiency is STRONGLY linked to many, if not most, early onset chronic conditions. This includes cancer, heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, bacterial and viral infections, arthritis, infertility, obesity, depression and psychological disorders, bone disease, oral health, and a host of other afflictions.

    Almost everyone is vitamin D deficient much of the year in the U.S. Typically in the months Sept-April supplementation is required. If you choose to tan do so with sense and seek the equipment with the highest UVB output.

    Recommendations to supplement 400-600 i.u. of vitamin D daily will never achieve blood levels of 50-80 ng/ml, 25 OH D. Most people of normal BMI will require 3000-5000 per day in the low sun months Sept-April.

    Have a "25 OH vitamin D test" twice a year by your physician. Based on the results increase or decrease supplementation or tanning to maintain the healthy, normal range of 50-80 ng/ml, 25 OH D.

    People with dark skin or high BMI's (obese people) will require additional amounts of supplementation or tanning to maintain the healthy range.

    Educate yourself and your medical professionals about vitamin D deficiency. What has been learned recently will shock you. So many common, serious afflictions are directly related to vitamin D deficiency. After all, how many people know, doctors and patients alike, breast cancer is overwhelmingly a vitamin D deficiency disease?

    August 24, 2010 at 10:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JC

      @ CLS "What has been learned recently will shock you. So many common, serious afflictions are directly related to vitamin D deficiency. After all, how many people know, doctors and patients alike, breast cancer is overwhelmingly a vitamin D deficiency disease?"

      Wrong and wrong again sir. Vitamin D deficiency has been correlated with, but as of yet it is unclear if it causes any disease other than rickets and osteoporosis. It is also unclear if oral supplementation protects or prevents the common diseases its linked with. While I personally feel supplementation (1000-2000IU/day) is a good idea, expensive ($150+) biannual vitamin D tests will not be covered by insurance and do not guide evidence based therapy.

      No controlled trials have yet to show that replacing vitamin D improves diabetes, depression, chronic pain syndromes, lupus, etc. All we have found thus far is that people with these diseases tend to have lower levels of vitamin D. This could be due to the debilitating nature of these diseases and thus less sun exposure. Another possible explanation is that most sunlight (vitamin d) is obtained doing activities and would be inversely proportional to sedentary leisure time. Thus it may not be the vitamin D but may be the exercise and exposure to outdoors and sunlight that is protective against these diseases.

      This study gives us another correlation with a physiological possibility of how it might protect against disease. Its like having a motive, but yet doesn't equate guilt just yet.

      We also don't know of the harms of drastically increasing Vitamin D levels. Everything in moderation, but it is safe to take 1000U to 2000U per day as many studies have shown.

      August 24, 2010 at 11:54 | Report abuse |
    • JC IS AN IDIOT

      No you are wrong. I don't need a test to tell me that Vitamin D has worked wonders for my pain. No it is not pyschological either, I had doubts that it would do anything but it has.

      August 24, 2010 at 14:18 | Report abuse |
    • kathy

      Actually, JC is correct. I will chime in & state that my loved one was a swimmer, diver, triathlete, equestrienne, archer to name just a few. She was in the sun a lot - and in Florida! No question she got her sunshine, and I can vouch she got plenty of vitamin d from food; she likes milk, loves cheese & yogurt, and of course ice cream. Yet, she got a full-blown lupus diagnosis at age 16. So, again, JC is right. There might be a CORRELATION in SOME individuals, but whether that means low calcium leads to autoimmune diseases has not been proven. And, in our case, did the body turn more than adequate supplies of vitamin d off, so that it didn't work? Or, was the vitamin d lead a red herring? Also, I have read that SUPPLEMENTS of vitamin d do no good - they must be consumed as food. We have a lot to work on yet, folks.......

      August 24, 2010 at 14:30 | Report abuse |
  9. L

    my father died from melanoma, I will take a vitaminD pill & save my skin, thank you.

    August 24, 2010 at 10:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • rk

      I'm very sorry about your father. Vitamin D is fat-soluble, so make sure you take your vitamin with a meal (or at least a little fat) to get maximum absorption.

      August 24, 2010 at 11:02 | Report abuse |
  10. Art School Dropout

    I wish the article would have differentiated between the types of vitamin D. The research suggests that a lack of D3 is the one that is most closely tied to the development of autoimmune diseases, etc. Although no guidelines exist thus far for how much to consume, my doctor had suggested between 1-2,000 i.u. for the average person. I would assume those with autoimmune diseases or in areas of the country with less days of sun during the year might need more???

    August 24, 2010 at 10:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Ituri

    I love the feel of the sun, but I burn very easily. I suppose I should start supplimenting, eh? Is there an age level to this type, or is it across the board?

    August 24, 2010 at 11:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. CutTheCarb

    Vitamin D or sunlight deficiency is associated with lots of diseases like rickets, osteomalacia, diabetes mellitus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, infectious diseases, cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Here, http://bit.ly/9ilv5O you'll find several interesting videos about the benefits of vitamin D.

    August 24, 2010 at 11:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Tanya

    I use to have at least 5 colds in the winter and sometimes the flu. However, after hearing about vitamin D and taking it for two years now..... no colds or flu. First time in my life!!! It's amazing!! Can't live without it. Ever wonder why we don't get colds in the summer? Because we get more Vit. D in the summer when we are outside in the sun. In the winter we cover with coats, hats, gloves and stay inside because of the cold weather. Explains why we get colds in the winter!!! In any case, however, you must start taking it three months before winter for it to build up in your system for the winter. I usually start in September for the winter season, but you can start earlier. I take at least 2,000 mg according to my weight. Check youtube regarding the dosage that some recommend... there are a couple of videos there. However, if possible, have a blood test done before taking Vit. D to at least know your levels and check its progress after supplementation months later. No more colds for me! Thank you Vit. D

    August 24, 2010 at 11:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Patti Bullard

    This is so interesting. My 22 year old daughter has all sorts of ailments. When I saw this article I looked back at her blood results when they checked her VItamin D back in 2007 and her results were 29. It was in the "In Range" column however a note on the bottom of the page said Levels between 20 and 30 suggest insufficiency. I'm going to try the Vitamin D supplements and have her sit out in the sun. She has chronic migraines.

    August 24, 2010 at 11:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. charls

    Anyone living north of Atlanta, Ga will be deficient in Vitamin D during winter. Everyone needs to take Vitamin D supplement during the winter. Maybe the deficiency of Vitamin D plays a role in skin cancer. Many people get skin cancer on parts of their body that rarely has any exposure to sunlight. I find it hard to believe that sun burn in your teens leads to skin cancer 40 years later. Maybe it does but that is surely a very long latency period.

    August 24, 2010 at 11:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JS

      wow, so are you telling me there is a good aspect of living in atlanta? holy crap!

      August 24, 2010 at 17:06 | Report abuse |
  16. debpat

    I have MS and as a child I drank a ton of milk and I was always in the sun in the summer! I don't know if I agree with this!

    August 24, 2010 at 11:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ralph

      Yes because if you, the center of the universe, did not have the same experience, then the billions of people who found benefit from Vitamin D over thousands of years must be wrong. Thanks for enlightening us.

      August 24, 2010 at 14:20 | Report abuse |
    • Drinker

      You could have still been deficient. I am a huge milk drinker and spent time outdoors and my levels were still low. I supplement now and never get even a cold. Can't say for sure that is why but it sure seems like it.

      August 24, 2010 at 14:23 | Report abuse |
    • Sassy Britches

      Just wanted to say you are not alone. My sister has always and still does drink copious amounts of milk and is out in the sun regularly and she developed MS, just like I did. We're kind of a case study all our own – she and I have grossly different lifestyles. But I think there is some truth to the Vitamin D link but as usual, the study needs to continue.

      August 24, 2010 at 16:34 | Report abuse |
  17. Bryant

    A study of Hawaiian surfers revealed that half were Vitamin D deficient. It was found that the skin indeed produces Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, but it takes 4-6 hours for the body to absorb the oils containing Vitamin D. The surfers were showering after swimming and washing away the skin oils containing the Vitamin D. Supplementation is the key to avoiding Vitamin D deficiency, or just give up showering after sun exposure.

    August 24, 2010 at 12:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Brian

    D,E,A & K are all fat soluable (as I recall from HS health class:) so be very careful, they don't just "pee" out, they build up and can do harm. I'd say, as with everything, eat healthy foods (rich in vitamin D) and exercise outside more... there really isn't any magic pill folks. If you have a deficit of anything, adding more can surely help. All the ailments listed above could have something to do with D deficiency, but so many variables exist that we must stick to the basics to live more comfortable, productive lives. Healthy food tastes great if you learn to cook, and outdoor exercise is fun and can be inexpensive or free. Keep it simple, sure, take a vitamin, but go for a walk too!

    August 24, 2010 at 13:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Drinker

      Your expertise is health class and you are giving people advice? Seriously?

      August 24, 2010 at 14:24 | Report abuse |
  19. Bly

    The Medical and Pharmacuetical community have been aware of the health benefits of Vitamin D supplementation since the 1920's when Canadian Doctors made the discovery that Vitamin D bolsters the immune system in both healthy and 'at risk' people. The observed positive benefits to the immune system were so startling – the ability of Vitamin D to help maintain a healthy system and its abilility to help a diseases system regain homeostatis and thus good health – that the medical and pharmaceutical industries cconsidered it a threat to their profits. A healthy society has far fewer demands for doctors and controlled drugs. And there was no profit incentive for promoting Vitamin D "Therapy" – it is so cheap. So Vitamin D was removed from the shelves and labeled a dangerous supplement by the FDA ... for nearly a half-a-century. This amazing substance, brought to us all naturally by the Sun, (the source of all llife on earth), is only recently enjoying its deserved status of multi-dimensional healer, as a catalyst for good health.

    August 24, 2010 at 13:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. be_informed

    “It seems that if you are born with genes that increase your risk of these diseases, vitamin D may act to correct this genetic predisposition,” wrote lead author, Ramagopalan. “That would be the take-home message.”

    Huh??? There are many articles out there that suggest that increased doses of vitamin D might actually WORSEN autoimmune disease. Those who have autoimmune diseases have a much greater chance at being vitamin D deficient, but the link has nothing to do with diet or lack of sunshine. It's something else. There are many medical scientists who are investigating the possibility that intracellular bacteria dysregulate vitamin D metabolism, causing autoimmune dysfunction and vitamin D difiencies. The link between vitamin D and autoimmune disease has less to do with genetics and more to do with the environment. Get rid of the bacteria, and you get rid of the disease. More research needs to be driven in this area, so we can find a way to kill these microbes infecting our bodies. We need a cure, not more drugs and vitamin pills.

    August 24, 2010 at 14:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • bob

      Marshall Protocol junkie?

      August 24, 2010 at 14:28 | Report abuse |
  21. Steve

    Thanks to JC for this comment. People are jumping up and down for Vitman D and all we know so far is there is a link; the complete picture is unclear"
    "Wrong and wrong again sir. Vitamin D deficiency has been correlated with, but as of yet it is unclear if it causes any disease other than rickets and osteoporosis. It is also unclear if oral supplementation protects or prevents the common diseases its linked with. While I personally feel supplementation (1000-2000IU/day) is a good idea, expensive ($150+) biannual vitamin D tests will not be covered by insurance and do not guide evidence based therapy.

    No controlled trials have yet to show that replacing vitamin D improves diabetes, depression, chronic pain syndromes, lupus, etc. All we have found thus far is that people with these diseases tend to have lower levels of vitamin D. This could be due to the debilitating nature of these diseases and thus less sun exposure. Another possible explanation is that most sunlight (vitamin d) is obtained doing activities and would be inversely proportional to sedentary leisure time. Thus it may not be the vitamin D but may be the exercise and exposure to outdoors and sunlight that is protective against these diseases.

    This study gives us another correlation with a physiological possibility of how it might protect against disease. Its like having a motive, but yet doesn't equate guilt just yet.

    We also don't know of the harms of drastically increasing Vitamin D levels. Everything in moderation, but it is safe to take 1000U to 2000U per day as many studies have shown."

    August 24, 2010 at 14:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Steve

    Thanks to JC for your reasonable comment. People are jumping up and down for Vitman D and all we know so far is there is a link; the story is incomplete.

    August 24, 2010 at 14:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. TT

    A big source of vitamin D comes from your leafy Greens. The darker the green the better it is for your body with lots of vitamins. I also find that if you are low in vitamin D you may be low with other vitamins as well.

    August 24, 2010 at 14:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Drinker

      Wrong, mushrooms are the only vegan source of vitamin D

      August 24, 2010 at 15:14 | Report abuse |
  24. Pete

    According to the data, all humans eventually die no matter what.

    August 24, 2010 at 15:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Julie

    It's extremely difficult to get sufficient Vitamin D from foods, exacerbated by the fact that those foods need to be consumed along with healthy saturated fats to be absorbed. We all really need to get outside in the sunshine! Sunscreens are toxic so don't use but instead limit your time so you don't get burned! If you are getting burned and/or if you simply want to be healthier, look into the benefits of converting to heatlhy fats: those from grass fed beef and dairy, pastured eggs, coconut oil etc and vastly reducing the inflammatory Omega 6 fats such as vegatable oil, corn fed beef, industrially produced chickens, etc. One of the keys to health is a 1:1 balance of Omega 6s to Omega 3s and the standard American diet is more like 15:1 Omega 6s to Omega 3s. Switching to naturally raised animal products gives you the 1:1 ideal ratio for health.

    August 24, 2010 at 15:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Odalice Feliz

    good to know!!

    August 24, 2010 at 15:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Dali

    We have an old saying that has been passed down through many generations: "The house and the people not seen by the sun are seen by the doctor". It is a good thing that science is finally trying to understand why that is so true. Vitamin D production is probably one of the factors.

    August 24, 2010 at 16:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. rizizgirl

    I have moderately severe plaque psoriasis. I know that going in the sun for UV rays is good but is there a link to Vitamin D as well?

    August 25, 2010 at 11:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Henry Lahore

    VitaminDWiki has 2500+ entries on vitamin D in 36 categories – Many entries are peer-reviewed papers.
    Sample categories, with their number of entries are::
    Osteoporosis 36,
    Breast Cancer 36,
    Psoriasis 12,
    Cardiovascular 80,
    How Much 130,
    Far From Equator 44,
    Seniors 91,
    Dark Skin 87,
    Test for D 29,
    UV 109, ...
    And at this point 12 Category overviews

    September 17, 2010 at 14:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. zeke

    I take 8,000,000,000 mg of D and my stock portfolio including D manufacturers just shot thru the roof.

    December 28, 2010 at 07:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. pagingdrgupta.blogs.cnn.com

    Vitamin d affects autoimmune diseases and cancer genes.. Neat 🙂

    April 20, 2011 at 08:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Sharilyn Rigsbee

    Autoimmune diseases arise from an inappropriate immune response of the body against substances and tissues normally present in the body (autoimmunity). This may be restricted to certain organs (e.g. in autoimmune thyroiditis) or involve a particular tissue in different places.".^;

    Have a good day
    <http://www.wellnessdigest.co/index.php/

    June 8, 2013 at 08:36 | Report abuse | Reply
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