Biochemist Leads 15th Vitamin D Workshop

Due to increased research and interest in vitamin D, henceforth workshops will be held annually, says UC Riverside’s Anthony Norman

Photo shows Anthony Norman in the lab.

Anthony Norman is a distinguished professor of biochemistry and biomedical sciences (emeritus) at UC Riverside, and an international expert on vitamin D. Photo credit: UCR Strategic Communications.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — The University of California, Riverside is hosting the 15th Vitamin D Workshop from June 19 (tomorrow) through June 22, 2012.  Held this year at the Intercontinental Hotel, Houston, Texas, the workshop will have about 50 oral presentations and 130 poster presentations.

Because research papers on vitamin D in the past five years have been appearing at the rate of more than 2000 per year, the workshop, which used to be held once every three years, will now be held annually.

“We simply cannot keep up with the field of vitamin D research unless we meet every year,” said Anthony Norman, a distinguished professor emeritus of biochemistry and biomedical sciences at UC Riverside, and a member of the two-member Advisory Committee that manages the workshop. “In 2012 we anticipate close to 3,500 papers on the vitamin.  The plan therefore is to meet annually in the 3-4 days immediately preceding the US Endocrine meetings.  This way, scientists get to attend two meetings in one trip.”

This year, the workshop anticipates 225 attendees, with representation from more than 27 countries. Attendees typically include chemists, biochemists, physiologists, endocrinologists, and clinicians — scientists of all of the disciplines essential to modern research pertaining to the many facets of vitamin D.  Topics covered at the workshop range from basic chemistry through molecular biology into immunology, with a strong clinical contingent of researchers studying bone and skin diseases, cancer and nutrition.

At present about half of elderly North Americans and Western Europeans and probably also of the rest of the world are not receiving enough vitamin D to maintain healthy bone.

“It is clear that merely eating vitamin D-rich foods is not adequate to solve the problem for most adults,” said Norman, an international expert on vitamin D who has proposed worldwide policy changes regarding people’s vitamin D daily intake amount.

A non-profit organization, the Vitamin D Workshops began in 1973 as a small gathering of approximately 60 nephrologists and vitamin D basic researchers in Frankfurt, Germany.  Attendance at recent workshops has been high even though many annual meetings in the area of calcium regulating hormones and other steroid hormones now take place.

The accomplishments at each Vitamin D Workshop are recorded and published in a series of 1000-page books.

Roger Bouillon at Katholieke Universiteit-Leuven, Belgium, is the other member of the Vitamin D Workshop Advisory Committee.  He and Norman will make the opening remarks at the workshop on June 20 and chair several sessions.  Registration for the workshop (costs vary) opens June 19 at 4 p.m.; a welcome reception follows at 6 p.m.

About vitamin D:

Also known as the “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D was discovered 92 years ago as a dietary agent that prevented the bone disease rickets.

Exposure to the sun is the body’s natural way of producing the vitamin. Skin exposed to solar UVB radiation can produce significant quantities of vitamin D. But this vitamin D synthesis is reliably available year-round only at latitudes between 40 degrees north and 40 degrees south. A combination of sunshine, food, supplements, and possibly even limited tanning exposure can raise the daily intake of the vitamin.

Vitamin D is itself biologically inert. Its biological effects result only after it is metabolized first in the liver and then in the kidney – a process that converts the vitamin into a steroid hormone.

The best sources of unfortified foods naturally containing vitamin D are animal products and fatty fish and liver extracts like salmon or sardines and cod liver oil. Vitamin D-fortified food sources in the United States include milk and milk products, orange juice, breakfast cereals and bars, grain products, pastas, infant formulas and margarines.

Vitamin D excess can cause health problems such as hypercalcemia, vomiting, thirst and tissue damage. The precise upper limit for daily vitamin D intake is not well defined.

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Anthony Norman
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E-mail: anthony.norman@ucr.edu

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