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Vitamin D has long been a subject of controversy over whether a deficit of the nutrient carries any link to chronic health concerns, such as cancer and heart disease. Recently released results, from Copenhagen University, of a long-term study on the relationship between low Vitamin D counts and mortality rate indicate that a causal connection does indeed exist, according to Dr. Shoaid Afzal of the Copenhagen University Hospital. Both mortality rates and cancer deaths increased when patients exhibited a chronic shortage of vitamin D. The existence of patients’ other health concerns and poor lifestyle choices still leaves questions regarding the best way to counteract the vitamin deficiency.
The Copenhagen City Heart Study and General Population Study measured vitamin D levels with blood samples, which were analyzed for particular genetic defects related to the deficiency of the nutrient. Researchers have followed 96,000 Danes since 1976, until present day, with an eye on mortality factors. They found that genes affiliated with low Vitamin D levels are related to a 30 percent increase in mortality rates. Furthermore, the risk of death from cancer increases by 40 percent. They also established a link between low vitamin D levels and increase risk of death from any cause within 30 days of a hospital admittance, even if the patient is released and sent home.
Humans generally absorb Vitamin D through exposure to sunlight. As the sun touches the skin, it begins to generate the vitamin. Without sufficient intake or production of the sunshine vitamin, bones begin to soften and rickets can set in. To prevent a deficit, experts recommend that people spend at least 20 minutes per day in the sun to help the body produce a sufficient amount for optimal physical function. When light levels are low, a diet of fatty fish, fortified milk and some types of mushrooms provide the proper Vitamin D boost needed to alleviate the cancer risks. The study concludes that the practical impact of the findings on clinical practices are bounded by the need for “randomized intervention trials” before widespread recommendations can be implemented.
Previous studies suggested a relationship between the vitamin deficiency and mortality rates but results were unclear because of the possible influence of unhealthy lifestyles and generally poor health. Chief physician Børge Nordestgaard of the Copenhagen University Hospital contends that the results of this study eliminate that possibility, as genes cannot be influenced by unhealthy lifestyles. While a deficit does pose health risks in terms of cancer and early death, scientists are still unclear on the best way to raise D levels in the general population. Time in the sun may stimulate the natural production process but it is also linked to increased risk of skin cancer; and although diet and supplements can cover some of the need, it has limitations as well. As is often the case in science, the results of this study leaves these questions which require further research to clarify how to safeguard the health of the general populace by raising Vitamin D levels up to a healthy standard.
by Tamara Christine Van Hooser