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It is possible that darker skin's reduced ability to efficiently produce vitamin D in response to sunlight may explain the higher rate of vitamin D deficiency in African-Americans, and possibly even some of the health gap between black and white Americans, according to an article in USA Today.
Low levels on Vitamin D tests have been linked to higher risk of cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, in addition to weaker bones. Recent studies show African Americans have much higher rates of vitamin D deficiency.
"We think it's why African Americans develop more prostate cancer, breast cancer and colon cancer and get more aggressive forms of those cancers," Boston University professor Michael Holick, a leading vitamin D researcher, said in the article.
John Flack, principal investigator at the Center for Urban and African American Health at Wayne State University, is more cautious, pointing out that differences in income and education, reduced access to health care, neighborhoods with less healthy options and the stress of racial inequality are all factors that likely contribute to the difference in health outcomes.
"I think it's potentially a very important explanation for some of the differences, from hypertension to cancer to heart failure. The actual proof is not there, but it's plausible," he says.
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