Skin colour and vitamin D: An update

  title={Skin colour and vitamin D: An update},
  author={Andrea Hanel and Carsten Carlberg},
  journal={Experimental Dermatology},
  pages={864 - 875}
Homo sapiens evolved in East Africa and had dark skin, hair, and eyes, in order to protect against deleterious consequences of intensive UV radiation at equatorial latitudes. Intensive skin pigmentation was thought to bear the risk of inefficient vitamin D3 synthesis in the skin. This initiated the hypothesis that within the past 75 000 years, in which humans migrated to higher latitudes in Asia and Europe, the need for vitamin D3 synthesis served as an evolutionary driver for skin lightening… 

Adaptation and co‐adaptation of skin pigmentation and vitamin D genes in native Americans

It is argued that a gene network approach provides tools to explain human skin color variation since it indicates potential alleles co‐evolving in a compensatory way, and since food is also a source of vitamin D, dietary habits should also be considered.

The evolution of human skin pigmentation involved the interactions of genetic, environmental, and cultural variables

The primary biological role of human skin pigmentation is as a mediator of penetration of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) into the deep layers of skin and the cutaneous circulation, which represents the baseline condition for modern humans.

Vitamin D in the Context of Evolution

For at least 1.2 billion years, eukaryotes have been able to synthesize sterols and, therefore, can produce vitamin D when exposed to UV-B, which enabled vitamin D to modulate the energy-consuming processes of the innate immune system in its fight against microbes.

A revised action spectrum for vitamin D synthesis by suberythemal UV radiation exposure in humans in vivo

It was established that the previtamin D3 action spectrum was not valid when related to the serum 25(OH)D3 levels, as weighting the UVR doses with this action spectrum did not result in a common regression line unless it was adjusted by a blue shift, with 5 nm giving the best fit.

Does the High Prevalence of Vitamin D Deficiency in African Americans Contribute to Health Disparities?

Evidence exists that high 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels and/or vitamin D supplementation reduces risk for many adverse health outcomes including all-cause mortality rate, adverse pregnancy and birth outcomes, cancer, diabetes mellitus, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, multiple sclerosis, acute respiratory tract infections, COVID-19, asthma exacerbations, rickets, and osteomalacia.

Native American Ancestry and Pigmentation Allele Contributions to Skin Color in a Caribbean Population

Skin color plots of individuals lacking known hypopigmenting alleles suggests that Native American Ancestry reduced pigmentation by more than 20 melanin units, and shared ancestry with East Asians at K=3 suggests potential sharing of one or more pigmentation alleles.

Effects of Hypopigmentation Alleles and Ancestry on Skin Color in a Caribbean Native American Population

Admixture analysis of 458 Kalinago individuals from the Commonwealth of Dominica shows 55% Native American ancestry grouping with East Asian ancestry at K=3, 32% African, and 11% European ancestry.

Critique of Public Health Guidance for Vitamin D and Sun Exposure in the Context of Cancer and COVID-19

Strong, although not Level-1, evidence indicates that the maintenance of that threshold will lower mortality overall, lower mortality from cancer, and lower the risk of certain other diseases such as respiratory infection and COVID-19.

Vitamin D and COVID-19: evidence and recommendations for supplementation

UK and other governments are urged to recommend vitamin D supplementation at 800–1000 IU/day for all, making it clear that this is to help optimize immune health and not solely for bone and muscle health.



The timing of pigmentation lightening in Europeans.

This work uses forward Monte Carlo simulations coupled with a rejection sampling algorithm to estimate the time of onset of selective sweeps and selection coefficients at four genes associated with this trait in Europeans: KITLG, TYRP1, SLC24A5, and SLC45A2 and suggests that these patterns were influenced by recent increases in size of human populations, which favored the accumulation of advantageous variants at different loci.

Was skin cancer a selective force for black pigmentation in early hominin evolution?

  • M. Greaves
  • Biology
    Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
  • 2014
Data on age-associated cancer incidence and lethality in albinos living at low latitudes in both Africa and Central America support the contention that skin cancer could have provided a potent selective force for the emergence of black skin in early hominins.

Evidence That Loss-of-Function Filaggrin Gene Mutations Evolved in Northern Europeans to Favor Intracutaneous Vitamin D3 Production

By allowing additional UV-B penetration and intracutaneous VD3 formation, the latitude-dependent gradient in FLG mutations, likely together with other concurrent mutations in V D3 metabolic pathways, provide a non-pigment-based mechanism that sustains higher levels of circulating VD 3 in northern Europeans.

DHCR7 mutations linked to higher vitamin D status allowed early human migration to Northern latitudes

The results suggest that genetic variation in DHCR7 is the major adaptation affecting vitamin D metabolism in recent evolutionary history which helped early humans to avoid severe vitamin D deficiency and enabled them to inhabit areas further from the equator.

Vitamin D production in UK Caucasian and South Asian women following UVR exposure

The Genetics of Human Skin and Hair Pigmentation.

The responsible polymorphisms within these pigmentation genes appear at different population frequencies, can be used as ancestry-informative markers, and provide insight into the evolutionary selective forces that have acted to create this human diversity.

The cutaneous photosynthesis of previtamin D3: a unique photoendocrine system.

  • M. Holick
  • Medicine
    The Journal of investigative dermatology
  • 1981
The unique mechanism for the cutaneous synthesis, storage, and steady release of vitamin D3 into the circulation prompted an investigation into the potential therapeutic benefits of using the skin as the site for the synthesis and absorption of vitamin-D3 metabolites.

The evolution of human skin coloration.

The highest correlation between skin reflectance and UV levels was observed at 545 nm, suggesting that the main role of melanin pigmentation in humans is regulation of the effects of UV radiation on the contents of cutaneous blood vessels located in the dermis.

Direct evidence for positive selection of skin, hair, and eye pigmentation in Europeans during the last 5,000 y

Strong selection favoring lighter skin, hair, and eye pigmentation has been operating in European populations over the last 5,000 y, providing direct evidence that positive natural selection is responsible for depigmentation within Europe.