Current vitamin D deficiencies linked to people's migration habits

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  • Vitamin D deficiency is associated with a range of health conditions
  • It is largely caused by a lack of sun exposure
  • Researchers found that this deficiency is linked to the migration habits of our predecessors

New research shows that migration patterns of humans from high sunlight areas to lower sunlight areas over the last 500 years has greatly impacted current health outcomes.

Danish researchers conducted an analysis – published in the Oxford Economic Papers – to substantiate their claims that migration over the past five centuries “induced differences in contemporary health outcomes”. 

Three facts behind the theory

The researchers expressed that the theory behind their analysis is based on three physical facts: vitamin D deficiency is associated with an increased risk of mortality (death); humans’ ability to produce vitamin D naturally from sunlight decreases with skin pigmentation; and lastly, “skin pigmentation is the result of an evolutionary compromise between higher risk of vitamin D deficiency and lower risk of skin cancer”.

For the purpose of their research, the scientists observed groups who originated from high UV areas and then moved to lower UV areas between the year 1500 and the present. Researchers measured the difference in UV intensity between their ancestral place of residence and their current residing region and found that the shift led to a hike in vitamin D deficiencies among these populations. 

What are the consequences of these migration patterns?

Upon establishing the differences in sunlight intensity between the two regions increased the risk of vitamin D deficiency, researchers analysed this risk in relation to life expectancy and found that an increased vitamin D deficiency is associated with lower life expectancy. 

Vitamin D deficiency is also linked to a number of health conditions, such as heart disease, hypertension, cancers and diabetes.

The ultimate conclusion the researchers came to is that the potential risk of vitamin D brought about by migration is a strong predictor of present-day health indicators. 

Dr Thomas Barnebeck Andersen, co-author of the study stated: “This research is important because it is the first research to document a link between an increased risk of vitamin D deficiency and differences in life expectancy across countries and regions. It thus serves to highlight the potentially huge benefit in terms of additional life years of taking vitamin D supplements, particularly during the autumn and winter.”

Image credit: Pexels

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