The authors explained that their study found that higher vitamin D levels in healthy people have a considerable impact on the genes that are involved in several biologic pathways linked to infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Previous studies have demonstrated that excessively low vitamin D levels are associated with a higher risk of developing the diseases mentioned above. The researchers emphasized that their findings provide further evidence that healthy people who improve their vitamin D status have significantly better immunity and a reduced risk of several diseases.
Vitamin D is uniqueThere are two ways we can obtain vitamin D:
- It can be ingested - eaten or drunk
- It can be synthesized by the body when our skin is exposed to the sun
A person's vitamin D level (vitamin D status) is gauged by measuring the blood level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D. When levels go below 20 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) the person has vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency can cause rickets, other musculoskeletal diseases, and further problems.
Recent studies have linked vitamin D insufficiency (between 21-29 ng/mL) and vitamin D deficiency (<20 ng/mL) to a higher risk of developing:
- Autoimmune diseases
- Infectious diseases
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Three participants were given 400 International Units (IUs) of vitamin D per day
- Five participants were given 2,000 IUs per day
At the end of the trial:
- Those in the 2000 IUs group achieved a vitamin D status of 34 ng/mL (considered sufficient)
- In the 400 IUs group their vitamin D status was 25 ng/mL (insufficient)
291 genes were significantly alteredThe gene expression analysis showed "statistically significant alterations in the activity of 291 genes".
When the genes were analyzed further, the scientists found that their biologic functions were related to 160 biologic pathways associated with cardiovascular disease, infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases and cancer.
After examining elements of gene response, or sequences of DNA bases that interact with vitamin D receptors to control gene expression, the researchers also found new genes related to vitamin D status.
To make sure that their findings were accurate, they looked at 12 genes which are known not to have alterations in their level of expression - they remained stable throughout the two months.
Michael F. Holick, PhD, MD, professor of medicine, physiology and biophysics at BUSM, said:
"This study reveals the molecular fingerprints that help explain the non-skeletal health benefits of vitamin D. While a larger study is necessary to confirm our observations, the data demonstrates that improving vitamin D status can have a dramatic effect on gene expression in our immune cells and may help explain the role of vitamin D in reducing the risk for CVD, cancer and other diseases."
This research was supported by a pilot grant from the National Institutes of Health's Clinical Translational Science Institute under grant award # UL-1-RR-25711.