JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Vitamin D is primarily produced in the body through direct exposure of the skin to sunlight. While it has long been touted for its important role in maintaining healthy bones, more recent research suggests that sustaining healthy levels of vitamin D in the bloodstream can also reduce the risk of common diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer, says a Mayo Clinic researcher.
"Unfortunately, many Americans are unaware of these additional health benefits of vitamin D, and some reports suggest that up to one-quarter of the U.S. population have suboptimal levels of vitamin D in their blood — a condition known as hypovitaminosis D," says Alexander Parker, Ph.D., associate professor of epidemiology and urology at Mayo Clinic, Florida, and chair of the Division of Health Sciences Research.
One segment of the U.S. population that is at particular risk of having lower than optimal vitamin D levels is the black community, he says. This is primarily because darker skin, with more melanin, reduces the ability to absorb the sunlight necessary to make vitamin D, Dr. Parker says.
"Indeed, data from large, national studies have reported that as high as 40 percent of black Americans in the U.S. do not have healthy levels of vitamin D in their blood," he says. "That's important because low vitamin D levels in black Americans have been offered as a potential explanation for some of the racial and ethnic disparities in heart disease, cancers, and other conditions."
To begin to address this issue, Mayo Clinic will offer a series of informational presentations followed by question-and-answer sessions regarding the health benefits of vitamin D for black residents.
"We believe it is important to pass this information to members of our Jacksonville community, and one way we can effectively do this is to go out into the community, talk to people face to face and be there to answer any questions they may have," Dr. Parker says.
To provide the most benefit possible, Dr. Parker and his team have combined the outreach informational sessions with a simple research study designed to determine the level of awareness of the high prevalence of hypovitaminosis D in the black community and its association with a variety of common diseases.
For those who are interested, the study will offer free blood tests to screen for hypovitaminosis D. Testing will be performed at Mayo Clinic. The results, along with advice on how to share this information with a local family physician, will be mailed to each participant about one month after the event.
Most importantly, Dr. Parker says, the team from Mayo Clinic will then discuss the results of the surveys, provide information on the prevalence of hypovitaminosis D in the black community in Jacksonville, and offer information on simple and inexpensive strategies that can help someone improve or maintain optimal vitamin D levels.
"This is just one small way Mayo Clinic in Florida, can give something back to its community," he says.
"Vitamin D and its benefits has been a hot topic for a while now and I think it's important to collaborate with the community to bring vitamin D education to our area," says Monica Albertie, who organizes and manages community-based research projects at Mayo Clinic in Florida.
"We hope that by increasing awareness about the importance of maintaining healthy levels of vitamin D, we will be providing our community with additional health information that could possibly reduce the risk of chronic disease, especially those diseases that are particularly prevalent in the black community," she says.
The next screening date is:
Wednesday, March 14, at 6 p.m. at Mt. Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, 1620 Helena Street.
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