Vitamin D Affects Autoimmune Diseases & Cancer Genes
- Kathryn Stewart
- Tuesday, August 24th, 2010
August 24th, 2010
06:46 AM ET
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.
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."