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Not a bad idea to get a few minutes of sunshine to keep those vitamin D levels up and healthy. Reuters

Low levels of vitamin D in blood increases mortality and risk of cancer, says a large-scale population study conducted by the University of Copenhagen.

The scientists kept a health tab on all 96,000 participants from 1976 to date to conclude that vitamin D deficiency was associated with an increased risk of many diseases, specifically cancer, as also high mortality rates.

Vitamin D deficiency is known to affect bone health and lead to increased risk of diseases.

Researchers from the university and Copenhagen University Hospital examined the connection between genes associated with permanent low levels of vitamin D and mortality.

They found an increased mortality rate of 30 per cent and, more specifically, a 40 per cent higher risk of cancer-related deaths.

"Our study shows that low vitamin D levels do result in higher mortality rates, but the best way of increasing vitamin D levels in the population remains unclear. We still need to establish the amount of vitamin D to be added, as well as how and when it is most effective: Should we get vitamin D from the sun, through our diet or as vitamin supplements? And should it be added in the foetal stage via the mother, during childhood or when we have reached adulthood?" said Børge Nordestgaard Clinical Professor at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen, and Chief Physician at Copenhagen University Hospital.

In the scientific study, which is based on the Copenhagen City Heart Study and the Copenhagen General Population Study, vitamin D levels were measured using blood samples from both studies, and specific genetic defects were examined.

Source of vitamin D

The best and easiest source of the vitamin is the sun. Our skin produces vitamin D in the presence of sunlight. However, a 20-minute exposure is safest.

It is also available in certain foods like fish, mushrooms, egg yolk, cheese and many fortified food. The benefits of vitamin D are many.

In the study, a low level of vitamin D was defined as 20 nmol/L lower than normal. In Denmark, the minimum level recommended is 50 nmol per litre plasma.

The findings are published in British Medical Journal.