Vitamin D influences more than 200 genes including some that are linked with cancer and autoimmune conditions, a new study has revealed.
The research underlines the extent to which vitamin D can protect against a wide range of diseases.
Experts mapped 2,776 points where the vitamin interacts with elements of DNA, including those that make up genes.
The sites displayed an unusual concentration near genes associated with autoimmune disorders, such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and lupus.
They were also discovered close to genes for cancers - for example chronic lymphocytic leukaemia and bowel cancer.
Scientists demonstrated that vitamin D had a significant impact on the activity of 229 specific genes, including ones previously linked with MS, Crohn’s disease and type 1 diabetes - another autoimmune condition.
“Our study shows quite dramatically the wide-ranging influence that vitamin D exerts over our health,” said Dr Andreas Heger, from the Medical Research Council Functional Genomics Unit at Oxford University.
Working in the laboratory, the scientists isolated fragments of DNA in cells to study the effects of exposure to calcitriol, the “active” form of vitamin D.