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Do Black People Need More Vitamin D?

Do Black People Need More Vitamin D?



itamin D has stepped into the vitamin forefront in recent years. Often referred to as the “sunshine” vitamin, it is unique because our bodies can synthesize it from sunlight. But that production depends on adequate sun exposure. And for those with darker skin tones, that process is less efficient. What does this mean for vitamin D status among groups for those of African, Caribbean, or South Asian descent? Here we’ll examine what the research says so far.

How melanin affects Vitamin D

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Melanin is the pigment that gives color to our skin, hair, and eyes. It helps protect deeper layers of skin from sun damage. But it also functions as a natural sunblock, absorbing and scattering UV rays before they can trigger vitamin D synthesis.

Those with larger quantities of melanin have more protective buffering capacity. Numerous studies quantitatively demonstrate that people with darker skin tones require much longer UV exposure to generate equivalent vitamin D levels compared to those with lighter pigmentation. For example, some research indicates nearly 50-60 minutes of midday summer sun in London is needed before vitamin D production begins in individuals with very dark skin. By contrast, lighter-skinned people can initiate vitamin D synthesis with just 5-10 minutes of similar exposure.

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The impact is so pronounced that by early spring — when sunshine contains less UV ray intensity — darker-skinned people living in higher latitudes can no longer produce meaningful vitamin D. Lighter-skinned people retain that capacity for a month or two longer into spring. In essence, protective melanin sun screening occurs at the “cost” of reduced vitamin D production capability. This situation clearly explains the patterns of vitamin D deficiency prominently seen in darker-skinned ethnic minority groups living in temperate climates.

Do Black people need more Vitamin D?

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Deficiency in vitamin D is concerning as it has been linked to numerous health conditions like osteoporosis and frequent infections. Autoimmune diseases and certain cancers also show correlations with low vitamin D. Boosting levels closer to optimal ranges may help reduce risks.

Current Vitamin D recommendations: Leading health organizations suggest most adults aim for at least 600-800 IU of vitamin D per day. However, many experts argue that at least 1000-2000 IU daily is ideal for people with darker complexions based on continual research. The wisest approach is having blood levels tested to gauge individual needs.

Sensible ways to increase Vitamin D

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With care and moderation, increasing vitamin D is fairly simple through brief midday sun exposure, fatty fish consumption, fortified dairy, and juices, or supplements if directed by a doctor. Combining sensible sunlight, diet, and intelligence testing constitutes the best protocol.

While more research is warranted, current evidence suggests populations with darker skin need to be especially vigilant regarding vitamin D status. Work with your doctor to determine optimal vitamin D levels and the best sources to meet them, while avoiding toxicity. Keep tabs on your levels, particularly during winter months when the sun’s rays have less strength. With smart supplementation and diet, deficiencies can be avoided to support all aspects of health.

Featured image: @djamishere via @afroellemag/Instagram 

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