Monday, December 15, 2008

Sunlight, vitamin D and African Americans, Part 2

In my previous post, I discussed reasons to believe that the generally poor health of African Americans is due in large part to vitamin deficiency. Here are more reasons to believe that the need for vitamin D is critical among this population.

1. Heart disease is twice as prevalent among black men as white men.[1] Although part of the discrepancy may be due to more smoking among black men, it is probable that a significant part is due to vitamin D deficiency. Low sun exposure and low vitamin D levels correlate to increased inflammation, higher cholesterol and hypertension, all risk factors for heart disease.

2. Heart failure is also much more common among blacks[2]—not surprising since we know the efficacy of vitamin D in preventing heart failure.

Now let’s discuss what is perhaps the most important study for African Americans. It is often argued that the excessive rates of cancer, diabetes, hypertension, etc. among African Americans are due to lack of access to health care. If that were the case, black physicians would have approximately the same lower rates of disease as their white counterparts, since black physicians obviously have high access to health care. However, research shows that even black physicians have a much higher incidence of cancer than their white counterparts.[3] But when black physicians have habits that provide higher vitamin D levels, they have approximately the same cancer rates as white physicians. Had the rates of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and other diseases also been studied, along with measurements of serum vitamin D levels, I believe the pattern would have been even more clearly established.

Since African Americans have only 50-75% of the serum levels of vitamin D as whites,5 part—perhaps a large part—of the discrepancy between the health of the races could be rectified by nothing more than vitamin D supplementation of about 5,000 IU daily. That is very good news indeed!

[1] USA Department of Health and Human Services 1998. Tobacco Use Among USA Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups — African Americans, American Indians and Alaska Natives, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta: USA Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
[2] American Heart Association. Heart and stroke statistics – 2004 update.
[3] Giovannucci, E. et al. Cancer Incidence and Mortality and Vitamin D in Black and White Male Health Professionals: Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2006;15:2467–72.

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