The roles of vitamin D and cutaneous vitamin D production in human evolution and health

Nina G. Jablonski, George Chaplin

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Most of the vitamin D necessary for the maintenance of human health and successful reproduction is made in the skin under the influence of a narrow portion of the electromagnetic spectrum emitted from the sun, namely ultraviolet B radiation (UVB). During the course of human evolution, skin pigmentation has evolved to afford protection against high levels of UVR while still permitting cutaneous production of vitamin D. Similar pigmentation phenotypes evolved repeatedly as the result of independent genetic events when isolated human populations dispersed into habitats of extremely low or high UVB. The gradient of skin color seen in modern human populations is evidence of the operation of two clines, one favoring photoprotection near the equator, the other favoring vitamin D production nearer the poles. Through time, human adaptations to different solar regimes have become more cultural than biological. Rapid human migrations, increasing urbanization, and changes in lifestyle have created mismatches between skin pigmentation and environmental conditions leading to vitamin D deficiency. The prevalence and significance for health of vitamin D deficiencies, and the definition of optimal levels of vitamin D in the bloodstream are subjects of intense research and debate, but two of the causes of vitamin D deficiency – lack of sun exposure and abandonment of vitamin D rich foods in the diet – are traceable to changes in human lifestyles accompanying urbanization in prehistory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)54-59
Number of pages6
JournalInternational Journal of Paleopathology
StatePublished - Dec 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Archaeology


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