Skin-Pigment Regulation of Vitamin-D Biosynthesis in Man

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Science  04 Aug 1967:
Vol. 157, Issue 3788, pp. 501-506
DOI: 10.1126/science.157.3788.501


The known correlation between the color of human skin and latitude (Fig. 2) is explainable in terms of two opposing positive adaptations to solar ultraviolet radiation, weak in northern latitudes in winter yet powerful the year around near the equator. In northern latitudes there is selection for white skins that allow maximum photoactivation of 7-dehydrocholesterol into vitamin D at low intensities of ultraviolet radiation. In southern latitudes, on the other hand, there is selection for black skins able to prevent up to 95 percent of the incident ultraviolet from reaching the deeper layers of the skin where vitamin D is synthesized. Selection against the twin dangers of rickets on the one hand and toxic doses of vitamin D on the other would thus explain the world-wide correlation observed between skin pigmentation and nearness to the equator.