African Americans will be a main focus in a large, government-sponsored study of vitamin supplements set to begin later this year.

The study will recruit 20,000 people, a quarter of whom will be black, to see whether vitamin D and fish oil supplements might help prevent strokes, heart attacks or cancer.

The participants will be over age 60, with no history of heart disease or major cancer. They’ll be randomly assigned to take vitamin D, fish oil, both supplements, or a placebo for five years.

Vitamin D in particular is difficult to get enough of through diet, and many studies have shown adults and children are largely deficient in that specific vitamin.

People with dark skin have trouble making vitamin D through sunlight exposure, and some doctors think the deficiency may help explain why blacks tend to have higher rates of cancer and heart disease.

The study will be funded through several federal agencies, including the National Cancer Institute.

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