It is well known that sunlight is a reputable source of Vitamin D and that a mere 15 minutes of sun exposure can provide enough of the essential nutrient to maintain healthy body function. However, for those of us living in climates with only a few hours of daylight, sourcing that much needed sunshine can prove difficult.
There is strong scientific evidence to show Vitamin D from the sun can help decrease our risk of disease and illness when in a controlled environment. In Victorian times, low levels of Vitamin D were attributed to those suffering from rickets due to the subsequent lack of calcium and phosphorous absorption by the gastrointestinal tract. In far more recent history, low levels of Vitamin D have been directly linked to increases in the risk of breast cancer.
Last month, Professor George Ebers from Oxford University and his team published their discovery of a genetic link between the human body's ability to synthesise Vitamin D and the prevalence of Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
The report showed that people living in Scotland, where there are few hours of daylight were far more susceptible to low levels of Vitamin D and hence MS compared to those living in countries with greater exposure to the sun. In Scotland alone, approximately 10,000 people are known to suffer from MS and it has now been suggested to implement Vitamin D supplement plans to the population.
The publication however, does not come without scepticism. Authorities are unlikely to agree to supplement the population prior to extensive clinical trials, which can take years and are expensive to run. While clinical trials in this instance are surely required before any authoritative action is taken, there has been no outline as to whether population supplementation is effective and if it is safe. Treating people with Vitamin D can prove to be extremely harmful, particularly if the subject has a disease associated with elevated blood calcium levels.
The use of Vitamin D to decrease the frequency of MS is yet to be ascertained however, it is clear that low levels show genetic links with the disease, while also showing to affect other life-threatening illnesses such as breast cancer. Previous studies on cancer patients show that an increase in Vitamin D is pivotal for the self-destruction of mutated cells, preventing the reproduction of cancer cells and reducing blood flow to tumours. With advances in genetic research and the knowledge that both MS and some cancers have genetic links, it is no wonder that Vitamin D plays such an important role influencing over 2000 genes in the human body.
Despite a lack of consensus from medical and scientific communities, manufacturers in Scotland such as Kellogg's are already looking to supplement their products with Vitamin D. There are many researchers who claim that there should be little hesitation when it comes to supplementing communities such as those in Scotland. Furthermore, there is little evidence to prove of harmful effects of Vitamin D supplementation which suggests that research should focus on those living in warmer climates that are far more exposed to the sun.
Regardless of the controversy it still remains that for people living in regions of intense sun exposure such as Australia, long-term radiation is potentially life threatening and many people are diagnosed with malignant melanoma every year.
There is no denying the long-term benefits of Vitamin D on healthy body function yet the uncertainty about dose limits or restrictions has done little to downplay the talk of clinical trials in medical research. The good news is that the importance of Vitamin D has been recognised in the scientific community with hopes to further understand its benefits for the treatment and prevention of life-threatening diseases.