Studies: Low vitamin D levels contribute to disease risk

Getting sun, exercising and following a healthy diet can help you obtain vitamin D. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — A little extra time in the sun could help reduce the likelihood of contracting some diseases, according to new research.

People with low vitamin D levels are more likely to die from cancer and suffer from other illnesses, according to two studies published Tuesday, The New York Times reports.

Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, which forms and maintains strong bones and teeth. It is obtained primarily through exposure of the skin to sunlight, but it can be obtained from some foods such as fish, eggs, fortified milk and cod liver oil, according to information from the Mayo Clinic.

The studies, both of which were published in the journal BMJ, evaluated the effects of vitamin D.

One study from a team of scientists at Harvard, Oxford and other universities found that vitamin D protects against major diseases.

Also, adults with lower levels of the vitamin had a 35 percent increased risk of death from heart disease, a 14 percent higher change of death from cancer and a greater mortality risk overall.

In the other study, Stanford researchers worked with other European universities and found that high vitamin D levels protect against diabetes, stroke, hypertension and other diseases.

Both studies looked at supplement consumption as well. One study found no benefit to taking vitamin D2, but middle-aged and older adults who took another form, vitamin D3 — which is the type found in fish and dairy products — had an 11 percent reduction in mortality from all causes when compared to adults who did not.

The other study concluded there was no evidence that vitamin D pills influenced the outcomes of the diseases studied.

“Based on what we found, we cannot recommend widespread supplementation,” said Evropi Theodoratou, an author of the study, said to The New York Times.

Theodoratou says instead of taking pills, people could improve their vitamin D levels with an adequate diet and 30 minutes of sunlight twice a week, he said.

“The most important factors in obtaining vitamin D are going out and doing some exercise and following a healthy diet,” he told The Times.

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