Are you at risk for low levels of Vitamin D?
Through the continued coronavirus pandemic, the importance of having sufficient levels of Vitamin D should be at the forefront of our minds. Studies have linked vitamin D deficiencies with higher severity of respiratory infections when compared to people with an optimal level. Vitamin D deficiency has even been associated with a fourfold risk of death from Covid-19.
With such drastic consequences in response to lower Vitamin D levels, we should all make sure our levels are sufficient- spending time outside and eating foods with Vitamin D is not enough. Moreover, the color of your skin might determine your vitamin D levels.
According to a 2011 study, 41.6% of American adults have a deficiency in Vitamin D. This number only gets higher for American adults of color. 69.2% of Hispanics saw deficiencies. And a shocking 82.1% of African-Americans suffered from low levels of Vitamin D. Moreover, not only are Vitamin D levels in Black Americans deficient, but they are also significantly lower than that of white Americans. But why is this?
The typical answer to that question is to blame difference in socio-economic status, education, social environment, lifestyle habits, and less access to health care services. And while those factors are very important in regards to micronutrient levels, there is a missing piece to the puzzle. White Americans in similar disadvantaged surroundings still have higher levels of Vitamin D. The explanation for this conundrum dates back around 100,000 years ago when homo-sapiens first left Africa.
The role of evolution:
The first homo-sapiens in Africa were subject to the harsh and constant ultraviolet (UVR) radiation from the sun, requiring their skin to be dark and full of melanin. Melanin acts as a protective agent against DNA photodamage caused by UVR, which was vital in tropical Africa close to the equator. But when homo-sapiens begin to travel further and further away from the equator, the evolutionary need for more melanin in the skin became null. For homo-sapiens in Northern countries, dark pigmentation in their skin actually became a liability because of shorter lengths of daylight and an increase in sunless days. Just as melanin protects darker-skinned people from the harmful effects of UVR, it also causes it to be much more difficult to absorb Vitamin D from the sun. In fact, dark-skinned people require a six-time longer exposure to sunlight than fair-skinned people to achieve the same levels of Vitamin D.
The “Vitamin D Hypothesis” posits that the skin color of the world’s indigenous peoples trails a latitude distribution: populations with the darkest skin color inhabit the equatorial and tropical bets: while the most fair-skinned populations inhabit northern countries. While this evolutionary practice made sense before technology and globalization, it has now caused a health crisis for dark-skinned Americans today.
Other Risks associated with low Vitamin D
African Americans are not only evolutionarily not suited for sun conditions in North America, but they are also subject to socioeconomic standings that typically do not allow them access to sufficient levels of Vitamin D and other micronutrients. Poor levels of Vitamin D increases the risk of osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and other serious chronic conditions. Vitamin D deficiencies have also been linked to an increase in the likelihood of a severe case of Covid-19.
It is more important than ever, regardless of your skin color, to make sure your Vitamin D levels are sufficient. Especially if you are dark-skinned, it is already very likely your Vitamin D levels are extremely low. There are certain foods you can eat to increase your levels of Vitamin D like salmon, sardines, red meat, liver, and egg yolks. But the best way to ensure you have sufficient Vitamin D levels is to take supplements of the micronutrient.