“I’m destined to get (insert disease here) because my parents did.” – Maybe Not.

The field of genetics has rapidly evolved over the last 15-20 years.  The latest push in genetics is trying to figure out why some people with specific genes express them and why some do not.  For example, a very well-known gene is the “breast cancer” gene called BRCA.  This gene is known to increase the risk of developing breast cancer, but it’s not an absolute.  Just because you have the gene does not mean you are going to get breast cancer.  So why the difference?  Why would one woman with the gene get breast cancer and the next not?

Well some new research on vitamin D may help us find out.  It is clear that vitamin D is a potent genetic regulator.  The reduction in cancer rates and the rates of other diseases drops sharply with adequate vitamin D levels.  Most people, however, do not have adequate levels of vitamin D.

Vitamin D is considered a vitamin, but it’s really a hormone.  It is best obtained from direct sunlight but dietary sources do exist and include fortified milk, eggs and oily fish.  Vitamin D is probably best known for helping people build and maintain strong bones.  While it is essential for that, the story for vitamin D only begins there.

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.

“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.

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.  That’s right, thousands of genes respond to vitamin D.  To put this in perspective, the human genome has an estimated 23,000 genes.  That means vitamin D has a direct effect on over 12% of our genes. It doesn’t get more important than that!

What I want to stress is that if you are concerned about a part of your family’s health history as it relates to you (and who isn’t) taking vitamin D is good insurance.  It may just offset your genetic potential for disease by controlling your genes and keeping the bad ones turned off and the good ones turned on.

How much should I take?

I always recommend that my patients have their serum vitamin D checked.  It has become a very routine test for physicians to order and just about every person who comes to see me walks out of my office with a lab requisition to check vitamin D.

Taking vitamin D is simple.  Most people, even ones in sunny climates, can benefit from taking vitamin D.  Here in the Northeast I recommend my patients take 4,000-6,000 IUs per day for maintenance.  If we are working to significantly raise serum levels a dose of at least 10,000 IUs per day is necessary.  The point is check your blood levels.  Shoot for a level of between 55 and 65 ng/ml.  Once you reach that level you must maintain it to continue to get all the benefits that vitamin D provides.

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1 Comment

Filed under Diet, Public Health

One response to ““I’m destined to get (insert disease here) because my parents did.” – Maybe Not.

  1. Vitamin D is believed to reduce the risk of certain types of cancer in older women, especially breast cancer. Before the introduction of vitamin D supplements, children faced a high risk of a bone disease called rickets that caused a permanent bowing of the legs. Such a wonderful discovery.

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