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Here’s why 44.1 million people in the US, are at more risk of severe vitamin D deficiency and Covid

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In the latest study by a group of researchers from the City of Hope, a National Cancer Institute headquartered in Duarte, California, scientists have found that the genes linked to skin color can be potential indicators of vitamin D deficiency level in an individual.

The study involved a group of Afro-American participants. The researchers identified that participants with certain mutations had extremely low levels of vitamin D, nearly three times lower than the normal counting found in a healthy person. The scientists have not only discovered a correlation between the deficiency of vitamin D and cancer of the breast, colon, rectum, and prostate, but also COVID-19.

Previous studies have also suggested that vitamin D also plays a crucial role in combating the severity of coronavirus infection.

According to researchers, this study and its subsequent findings will play a significant role for doctors in determining the adequate dosage and prescription of this vital vitamin, thus lowering the vulnerability of black Americans to such life-threatening diseases.

Director of the Division of Health Equities at Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope, Dr Rick Kittles said: ‘We should not shy from this new study looking at the genetics of skin color and its effects on vitamin D deficiency because being “colorblind” is what has led to the widespread health disparities that we as a society are now trying to address.”

Dr Kittles also explained that skin color has both social as well as biological implications. An extremely low amount of vitamin D has been found in more than 70% of black Americans putting them at a high risk of cancer and cardiac illnesses.

Skin-related researches have found that people living at southern latitudes show lower rates of death resulting due to cancer. This is because, in comparison to northern latitudes, southern latitudes experience a greater amount of sunshine due to their geographic location.

In this study, published in PLOS Genetics, researchers had collected blood samples from 1,076 black Americans, for analyzing their DNA and identifying the levels of vitamin D. They also examined the skin of the inner upper arm by using a ‘digital reflectometer‘.

GWAS Results:

Manhattan plot showing a strong association between SLC24A5 SNPs on chromosome 15 and M-Index
LocusZoom plot of SLC24A5 region

They studied the genes SLC24A5, SLC45A2, OCA2 which are found to be linked with skin color among black Americans. The participants whose SLC24A5 showed genetic mutation had low levels of vitamin D (12 nanograms/milliliter). Whereas the normal range of vitamin D is between 20 to 40 nanograms/milliliter.

Vitamin D is also known as the sunshine vitamin for it is naturally produced by the skin when exposed to sunshine.

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