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Low Vitamin D Levels May Help Some Live Longer

New research shows that good genes typically include low Vitamin D levels

-- by Suzanne Boothby

The Gist

Vitamin D molecular structureProducing less vitamin D may be associated with longevity, according to a new Dutch study. 

New research published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal), found that familial longevity was associated with lower levels of vitamin D and a lower frequency of allelic variation in the CYP2R1 gene.

These results may cause confusion, as Vitamin D has recently become the darling in the supplement world. People with higher levels have been found to have better immunity, lower rates of cancer, and decreased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.

For example, in 2010, Yale University School of Medicine researchers found that people with high levels of Vitamin D had almost half the rate of sickness as those with lower levels. When these people did get sick, they even recovered faster.

In other words, the jury is not yet out on how vitamin D affects your long-term health.

The Expert Take

Studies have long shown that longevity runs in families, but the vitamin D connection is still under investigation.

"We found that the offspring of nonagenarians [i.e., in their 90s]  who had at least one nonagenarian sibling had lower levels of vitamin D than controls, independent of possible confounding factors and SNPs [single nucleotide polymorphisms] associated with vitamin D levels," the authors wrote. "We also found that the offspring had a lower frequency of common genetic variants in the CYP2R1 gene—a common genetic variant of this gene predisposes people to high vitamin D levels.”

Source and Method

Dutch researchers looked at data from 380 families with at least 2 siblings over age 90 (89 years or older for men and 91 year or older for women), all of whom participated in the Leiden Longevity Study. Using this data, the researchers were able to find a correlation between vitamin D and longevity.

The study involved siblings, their offspring, and their partners with a total of 1,038 offspring and 461 controls. The researchers measured levels of 25(OH) vitamin D and categorized levels by month according to each season. The researchers controlled for age, sex, BMI (body mass index), time of year, vitamin supplementation and kidney function, which all contribute to vitamin D levels. They also examined the influence of genetic variation in three genes associated with vitamin D levels.

The study was led by Dr. Diana van Heemst, Department of Gerontology and Geriatrics, Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden.

The Takeaway

This new report found an association between low vitamin D levels and familial longevity and concluded that offspring of nonagenarians could have more of a protein that is hypothesized to be an "aging suppressor." More research is still needed to fully understand the connection between lower vitamin D levels, genetic variants, and familial longevity.

While previous studies link low levels of vitamin D to increased rates of death, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, allergies, mental illness and other health issues, scientists are working to discover whether low levels are the cause of these diseases or if they are a consequence.

In other words, it is still unclear whether vitamin D levels affect your health or whether your health affects your vitamin D levels—scientists have only found correlation, and not causation.

Other Research

A 2011 Spanish study said the relationship between vitamin D and health outcomes was not linear and that more research was needed to determine the optimal vitamin D levels for health.

Vitamin D along with calcium supplementation has proven to be effective in increasing life expectancy in the elderly, according to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

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Tags: Latest Studies & Research , Treatments

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The Healthline Editorial team writes about the latest health news, policy, and research.