London: Scientists have found that vitamin D influences more than 200 genes, including ones related to cancer and autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis -- a discovery that shows how serious vitamin D deficiency can be.
Worldwide, an estimated one billion people are deficient in vitamin D, and a team of scientists from Britain and Canada said health authorities should consider recommending supplements for those at most risk.
"Our study shows quite dramatically the wide-ranging influence that vitamin D exerts over our health," said Andreas Heger of the Functional Genomics Unit at Britain`s Oxford University, who led the study.
Vitamin D affects our DNA through something called the vitamin D receptor (VDR), which binds to specific locations of the human genome. Heger`s team mapped out these points and identified more than 200 genes that it directly influences.
Vitamin D deficiency is a well-known risk factor for rickets, and some evidence suggests it may increase susceptibility to autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS), rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes, as well as certain cancers and even dementia.
With this is mind, the group looked at disease-associated regions of the gene map to see if they had higher levels of VDR binding. They found VDR binding was "significantly enriched" in regions linked to several common autoimmune diseases, such as MS, type 1 diabetes and Crohn`s disease, as well as in regions associated with cancers such as leukemia and colorectal cancer.