NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Orkney has 'higher vitamin D levels than mainland' says study

Brain scan Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption MS disrupts messages from the brain to the rest of the body

People in Orkney have higher levels of Vitamin D than people on mainland Scotland, a study has suggested.

Low vitamin D levels have previously been put forward as a reason for Orkney having one of the highest rates of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in the world.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have been left surprised at the findings of their Orkney survey.

The highest levels were found in farmers, and people over 60 who took regular foreign holidays.

Vitamin D is produced in the skin after exposure to sunlight and has been linked to many health benefits.

The team surveyed the levels of one in 10 of the population in Orkney.

Average levels of vitamin D were higher than on the mainland.

Excess unexplained

Prof Jim Wilson, who led the study at the University of Edinburgh's Usher Institute, said: "It was surprising to see that levels of vitamin D were not worse in Orkney, and if anything they were better than in mainland Scotland.

"It would appear that poor vitamin D status, while common enough, cannot explain the excess of Multiple Sclerosis we see in Orkney."

Image copyright Fionn McArthur
Image caption Orkney vitamin D levels have been boosted by sunshine, the study says

Emily Weiss, a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh who was involved in the study, added: "It was interesting to find that the traditional occupation of farming was associated with higher levels of blood vitamin D in Orkney.

"This may be because farmers are outside and utilising even the smallest window of vitamin-D strength sunshine.

"We also found that farmers in our Orkney cohort tended to be older, suggesting that the traditional way of life is changing, leaving younger people potentially more exposed to MS risk factors such as vitamin D deficiency."

The research - funded by the Shetland and Orkney Multiple Sclerosis Research Project - has been published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Previous studies have shown high rates of MS in Canada and Scandinavia.

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