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The Sunshine Vitamin and Cancer

An exciting study was published a few of weeks back in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that indicates that getting enough Vitamin D is important for reducing one's risk of cancer. Post-menopausal women that took 1100iu on vitamin D daily reduced their risk of cancer by up to 60%, which is nothing short of astounding. Already the Canadian Cancer Society has suggested that all adults should all take 1000iu of Vitamin D a day in the winter months, and that dark-skinned people should take 1000iu of Vitamin D a day year round.  Although this level of supplementation is probably safe for the vast majority of people and many may in fact need more, in my opinion, Vitamin D status must be assessed not only before supplementation, but also every six months or so, so that the appropriate dosage for the individual can be established, as at high levels Vitamin D can be toxic.  We are all biochemically different, get different amounts of sun, eat different diets, and these individual differences must be taken into account.  So go see your doctor for a simple blood test if you are planning to or are supplementing with Vitamin D.  Optimal levels of 25(OH)D are 40-50ng/ml.  Vitamin D deficiencies are extremely common, and are also linked to osteoporosis, heart disease, Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, obesity, infertility, fibromyalga, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohns disease, and Sjogren's Disease.

Vitamin D works differently from the other vitamins, as it is converted into and used as a hormone in the body. It controls blood levels of calcium, so if there is not enough calcium in the diet, calcium will be taken from the bones to keep the blood happy.   In the opposite scenario, when calcium levels are high and D levels are low, it is believed that the result may be calcification of joints, arteries, and kidneys.  Vitamin D is a very potent antioxidant - more potent than Vitamin E, and is also very important in immune function and cell repair.

So why have our levels of Vitamin D dropped? We are told to slather ourselves in sunscreen before going out the door, which blocks our ability to synthesize vitamin D. We are also told to avoid the midday sun, but it is the UV-B rays that are needed to manufacture Vitamin D, and those rays are only potent enough for Vitamin D synthesis between 10am and 2pm in the warmer months. The higher the latitude, the fewer months of the year that UV-B is strong enough for us to make Vitamin D.   The guidelines to avoid the sun are to avoid skin cancer, but according to John Cannell of the non-profit Vitamin D Council in California, about 1500 Americans die each year of skin cancer, whereas 1500 Americans die each day of the kinds of cancers that could be helped with adequate sun exposure. And skin cancer is relatively easy to detect and treat.  So, are we throwing out the baby with the bathwater?  Spending enough time in the sun without letting oneself burn looks to me to be a healthy practice. Many of the food sources of Vitamin D we are wrongly told not to eat, so diets low in saturated fat may also be low in vitamin D. Increased levels of mono-unsaturated fats and omega 6 polyunsaturated fats decrease the assimilation of Vitamin D from the diet, whereas omega 3 fats and saturated fats aid in its assimilation. Those with very low cholesterol levels due to statin drugs or otherwise would have difficulty synthesizing Vitamin D, as it is the cholesterol in the skin that converts the UV-B rays into the health-giving vitamin. I am wondering if it is through this mechanism that statin drugs may be associated with higher risks of cancer. 

According to the USDA the best dietary sources of Vitamin D in order of potency include:
  • high vitamin cod liver oil (read the label!)
  • lard (pork fat)
  • pickled Atlantic herring
  • eastern oysters
  • catfish
  • sardines
  • mackerel
  • chinook salmon
  • sturgeon roe
  • shrimp
  • egg yolk (fresh)
  • butter
  • liver
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Online at Vitamin D Council

Copyright 2007 Vreni Gurd