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Information on the latest vitamin D news and research.

Find out more information on deficiency, supplementation, sun exposure, and how vitamin D relates to your health.

Aboriginal Arctic populations: Vitamin D deficiency and disease risk

The incidence of cancer was exceptionally low among the Inuit and other Artic civilizations in older times, when they consumed traditional foods from the sea, especially whale blubber, which is very rich in vitamin D. However, their diet has changed dramatically in the last 50 years and their incidence of cancer, especially colorectal cancer, is now higher among the Inuit than in Whites living in the USA.

In fact, Dr. Sangita Sharma and colleagues of University of Alberta report that, “Cancer mortality rates in Alaska are significantly higher than those in mainland United States.”

Sharma S, Barr AB, Macdonald HM, Sheehy T, Novotny R, Corriveau A.  Vitamin D deficiency and disease risk among aboriginal Arctic populations. Nutr Rev. 2011 Aug;69(8):468-78. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2011.00406.x. Review.

Is it lack of vitamin D?

This group of scientists think so and make several interesting points, including the fact that the few traditionally living Inuit still have lower rates of cancer compared to their Westernized brethren. Likewise, they make similar cases for fractures, diabetes, and infectious disease, all much higher among Westernized Inuit.

Of course, the sun never gets very high in the sky in the Artic, even in the summer. However, the ozone hole, especially in the spring, allows more low hanging UVB than one would think to penetrate the atmosphere. Unfortunately, sunbathing is rare among the Inuit or the Alaskans.

Alaskans should take 5,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day, while children need 1,000 IU per every 25 pounds of body weight, rounded up.

  About: John Cannell, MD

Dr. John Cannell is founder of the Vitamin D Council. He has written many peer-reviewed papers on vitamin D and speaks frequently across the United States on the subject. Dr. Cannell holds an M.D. and has served the medical field as a general practitioner, emergency physician, and psychiatrist.

6 Responses to Aboriginal Arctic populations: Vitamin D deficiency and disease risk

  1. Several other studies of Inuits and vitamin D hypothesize that they, like blacks, may not need as much vitamin D as white-skinned people.
    http://www.vitamindwiki.com/tiki-index.php?page_id=2194

  2. togeorge41934@hotmail.com says:

    Did the Inuit receive significant vitamin D through their traditional diet?

    • Brant Cebulla says:

      They did. A pound of salmon has about 2000 IU of vitamin D. While this is quite a bit more than what the average American receives, it’s still a low amount of vitamin D compared to what the human body can do year round around the equator.

  3. Tom says:

    hlahore – The article you’re citing is based on the assumption that traditional Inuit diets had no more Vitamin D than current diets, which is nonsense. And given that skin-color itself is likely an evolutionary adaptation to UVB levels and that traditionally-living Africans have average levels over 100 nmol/L, it seems very premature to say that there are differences in vitamin D requirements by skin color.

  4. Brant – I wonder what the traditional Innuit diet actually consisted of on a day-to-day, year-round basis, especially with regard to the vitamin D intake?

    • Brant Cebulla says:

      Ron,
      This paper here estimates that Inuits (representing Inuits from Nunavut and Labrador and Inuvialuits from NWT) get about 1000 IU of vitamin D from a traditional diet, as opposed to just 250 IU from a non-traditional diet. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/134/6/1447.long

      Seems like a conservative estimate, but I haven’t taken the time to really dig into the paper.

      I am curious about the 25OHD content in a traditional diet, if there is any. I know there hasn’t been much research in this area in the past, but they’re starting to look at 25OHD content in various meats.

      Cheers,
      Brant