Vitamin D and Dark Skin Tone: Avoiding Health Hazards

Race denotes ones lineage. The origin of the world lies in the French translation haras with a silent ‘h’ changing into the Italian ‘razza’ that was during those times applied to animas and not humans.

The current English usage of the word race has been adapted and evolved over the centuries. A human race is a group of people with common inherited features that set them apart from other groups of people. All races are classified by anthropologists and biologists into the same species that is Homo Sapiens.

Apparently an Indian national will appear rather distinct from his American counterpart; however, the truth is that all races share 99.99+% of the same genes which indicates that race division is highly subjective.

All races can interbreed since they share nearly all of their genetic materials.

Most anthropologists recognize 3 or 4 basic races of man in existence which is further divided in 30 sudgroups. According to ethnographic division into races from Meyers Konversation lexicon of 1885-90, the recognized races are:

  • Caucasian races include Semites, Aryans and Hamites
  • Mongolian races include Chinese, northern Mongolian, Indo-Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Tibetan, Polynesian, Maori, Malayan, Micronesian, Eskimo and American Indian
    • Negroid races include African, Papua, Hottentots, Dravidians, Australian Aborigine, and Sinhalese

Each race has a different skin colour, which is primarily determined by melanin observed not just in skin cells, but in hair, eye and the inner ear. The brain also has traces of melanin found in the medulla and pigment-bearing neurons in the brainstem. Additionally, it also occurs in the adrenal gland.

Melanocytes, cells producing melanin, are found in the basal layer of the epidermis, the outer layer of the skin. This variation of melanin in the skin gives us all – our unique skin colour. Some people have a dearth of melanin production in their skin which leads them to a condition called Albinism.

Now, that we have cleared up why we have different skin colour, its important to understand how that relates to Vitamin D. Your dark skin can be a health hazard if you live away from the equatorial region and avoid sun exposure with little Vitamin D in your diet.

Many studies in the US have indicated that average African-American adults and children have lower Vitamin D levels than their lighter skinned counter parts.

Michael Holick, Boston University professor, a leading authority on Vitamin D, believes that low levels of Vitamin D is the cause that African Americans develop more forms of cancer such as breast cancer, prostate cancer and colon cancer.

Optimum sun exposure can be a good way to source Vitamin D; however, for those with a very dark skin tone, one might even need two hours of sun exposure as opposed to fifteen minutes exposure to those with paler skin. This is impractical and may even lead to much darker complexion which is cosmetically ill advised. Vitamin D and dark skin tone are directly related.

In addition, over exposure to sun may also lead to wrinkles and the dreaded skin cancer even in those with dark skin.

According to Holick, sensible, limited sun exposure is important; however, regardless of skin color, he recommends that everyone should take a daily vitamin D supplement of at least 1,000 international units (IU). Not every expert agrees; an expert panel from the Institute of Medicine reviewed the daily recommended  intakes now at 200 IU for people upto 50, 400 IU for those between 50 and 70 and 600 IU for those above 70. A 250 ml glass of fortified milk contains nearly 100 IU of Vitamin D.

Everyone, especially, those in the northern latitudes and those who keep their skin covered or use sunscreen whenever they go out fail to achieve the optimum level of Vitamin D 36 ng/ml to 40 ng/ml. However, those with dark skin complexion especially residing in the Southern Parts of India need to be particularly careful of their Vitamin D levels.

Consult your physician today to check your Vitamin D levels. Avoid self medication as it may prove to be more of a danger than a solution.

Enjoy your daily dose of sun.

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