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Source: Tina Amirkiai/ MEDILL University of Chicago geneticist Rick Kittles is studying the effects of serum vitamin D on prostate cancer risk in African-American men.

Source: Tina Amirkiai/ MEDILL University of Chicago geneticist Rick Kittles is studying the effects of serum vitamin D on prostate cancer risk in African-American men.

Vitamin D deficiencies—especially in African-Americans and people with darker skin tones—could raise the risk for developing conditions that include cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, according to several new studies.

As many as 36 percent of Americans are vitamin D deficient, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. That number could be more than double for African-Americans, according to geneticist Rick Kittles, associate professor at the University of Chicago in the Biological Sciences Division.

“Individuals who have moderate to high dark skin color make much less vitamin D,” Kittles said. “There have been some interesting studies recently which suggest that almost 75 percent of African Americans are vitamin D insufficient, which has a lot of implications as it relates to health of African-Americans.”

Vitamin D deficiency is called a “hidden epidemic” for darker-skinned people who have more melanin in the skin. High levels of melanin reduce the body’s ability to make vitamin D from sunlight exposure. In African-Americans it is called eumelanin.

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