The Pill That Prevents Cancer

 

Nutrition researchers are pushing for a big increase in the daily recommended dose of vitamin D. Dozens of recent studies suggest that deficiencies of the sunshine vitamin make people more vulnerable to everything from fractures to certain cancers and diabetes. Dr. Ken Cooper is an early adopter of higher dose vitamin D. He directs The Cooper Institute, a Dallas-based nonprofit research organization, which studies vitamins and markets doses and combinations backed by science.

Sun Not Always a Sufficient Source

“We used to think that we got all the vitamin D we needed daily by exposure to the sun,” says Cooper. But studies show 65 percent of Americans don’t get enough. The sun’s rays aren’t strong enough in winter. And in the warmer months, many people wear sunscreen or cover up in work clothes.

Researchers say 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure in the midday sun during the summer is adequate. But it can be tough to get in, says Dr. Beth Dawson Hughes, director of the Bone Metabolism Laboratory at Tufts University.  “I walked to and from the clinic with my hands and arms exposed. But it didn’t take me 10 minutes,” she says. “So I’d say I have not gotten my daily dose today.”

D Helps More than Bones

Dawson-Hughes recommends vitamin D supplements to her patients. Studies going back to the 1980s have shown that a combination of D and calcium supplements can reduce the risk of bone fractures.

“Now we see that D affects muscle performance, muscle strength and the risk of falling,” says Dawson-Hughes.

The key to effective vitamin D supplementation lies in taking adequate doses. Osteoporosis clinics usually take blood samples from patients to decide how much D is needed to restore optimal levels.

In some fracture and bone health studies, patients see benefits with supplements of 800 international units of vitamin D. This is double the amount now recommended by the government-sponsored Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences. This group set the standards that many makers of supplements and multivitamins follow.

The benefits of vitamin D seem to extend far beyond bone health, says Dr. Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health.

“I think at this time the case for raising the recommended level of D intake is very strong,” says Willett. “There are many lines of evidence that people need more vitamin D.”

Vitamin D and Cancer Prevention

Take, for instance, cancer prevention. A few decades ago, researchers found that colon cancer rates were higher in northern parts of the country where sunlight exposure is lowest.

From this lead, Willett’s group at Harvard designed a study. They took blood samples from 30,000 healthy women to find out exactly how much D they had in their bodies. The researchers then followed the women for years to see which ones developed colon cancer.

“We found that women who had the lowest blood levels (of vitamin D) have double the risk of cancer over those who had the highest,” Willett says.

The study doesn’t prove that vitamin D protects against cancer. But two other lines of evidence help build the case. Lab researchers doing test-tube and animal studies have found that vitamin D reduces the rate of cell multiplication.

And recently, scientists have found that a genetic variation in the vitamin D receptor, which transmits signals from vitamin D to cells, is associated with risk of breast cancer.

The Case for Increasing D

There’s also new work into understanding how vitamin D may affect the risk of multiple sclerosis, asthma and diabetes.  “We and many other researchers are seeing that people who have higher vitamin D levels have a lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes,” says Dawson-Hughes.

Researchers have many reasons to be excited by the accumulating evidence, yet many of their preliminary findings remain unproven.

Scientists do have new studies to show that high doses of vitamin D — up to 4,000 international units per day — are not toxic to the body. Some researchers hope to use this evidence to persuade the Food and Nutrition Board to increase the daily recommended level to 1,000 IUs per day for adults.

Revealed – The Pill That Prevents Cancer 

By Jeremy Laurance

Health Editor – Independent On Line

A daily dose of vitamin D could cut the risk of cancers of the breast, colon and ovary by up to a half, a 40-year review of research has found. The evidence for the protective effect of the “sunshine vitamin” is so overwhelming that urgent action must be taken by public health authorities to boost blood levels, say cancer specialists.

A growing body of evidence in recent years has shown that lack of vitamin D may have lethal effects. Heart disease, lung disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis are among the conditions in which it is believed to play a vital role. The vitamin is also essential for bone health and protects against rickets in children and osteoporosis in the elderly.

Vitamin D is made by the action of sunlight on the skin, which accounts for 90 per cent of the body’s supply. But the increasing use of sunscreens and the reduced time spent outdoors, especially by children, has contributed to what many scientists believe is an increasing problem of vitamin D deficiency.

After assessing almost every scientific paper published on the link between vitamin D and cancer since the 1960s, US scientists say that a daily dose of 1,000 international units (25 micrograms) is needed to maintain health. ” The high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency combined with the discovery of increased risks of certain types of cancer in those who are deficient, suggest that vitamin D deficiency may account for several thousand premature deaths from colon, breast, ovarian and other cancers annually,” they say in the online version of the American Journal of Public Health.

The dose they propose of 1,000IU a day is two-and-a-half times the current recommended level in the US. In the UK, there is no official recommended dose but grey skies and short days from October to March mean 60 per cent of the population has inadequate blood levels by the end of winter.

The UK Food Standards Agency maintains that most people should be able to get all the vitamin D they need from their diet and “by getting a little sun”. But the vitamin can only be stored in the body for 60 days.

High rates of heart disease in Scotland have been blamed on the weak sunlight and short summers in the north, leading to low levels of vitamin D. Differences in sunlight may also explain the higher rates of heart disease in England compared with southern Europe. Some experts believe the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet may have as much to do with the sun there as with the regional food.

Countries around the world have begun to change their warnings about the dangers of sunbathing, as a result of the growing research on vitamin D. The Association of Cancer Councils of Australia acknowledged this year for the first time that some exposure to the sun was healthy.

Australia is one of the world’s sunniest countries and has among the highest rates of skin cancer. For three decades it has preached sun avoidance with its “slip, slap, slop” campaign to cover up and use sunscreen. But in a statement in March, the association said: “A balance is required between avoiding an increase in the risk of skin cancer and achieving enough ultraviolet radiation exposure to meet adequate vitamin D levels.” Bruce Armstrong, the professor of public health at Sydney University, said: ” It is a revolution.”

In the latest study, cancer specialists from the University of San Diego, California, led by Professor Cedric Garland, reviewed 63 scientific papers on the link between vitamin D and cancer published between 1966 and 2004. People living in the north-eastern US, where it is less sunny, and African Americans with darker skins were more likely to be deficient, researchers found. They also had higher cancer rates. The researchers say their finding could explain why black Americans die sooner from cancer than whites, even after allowing for differences in income and access to care.

Professor Garland said: “A preponderance of evidence from the best observational studies… has led to the conclusion that public health action is needed. Primary prevention of these cancers has been largely neglected, but we now have proof that the incidence of colon, breast and ovarian cancer can be reduced dramatically by increasing the public’s intake of vitamin D.” Obtaining the necessary level of vitamin D from diet alone would be difficult and sun exposure carries a risk of triggering skin cancer. “The easiest and most reliable way of getting the proper amount is from food and a daily supplement,” they say.

The cost of a vitamin D supplement is about 4p a day. The UK Food Standards Agency said that taking Vitamin D supplements of up to 1,000 IU was ” unlikely to cause harm”.

What it can do.

Heart disease

Vitamin D works by lowering insulin resistance, which is one of the major factors leading to heart disease.

Lung disease

Lung tissue undergoes repair and “remodelling” in life and, since vitamin D influences the growth of a variety of cell types, it may play a role in this lung repair process.

Cancers (breast, colon, ovary, prostate)

Vitamin D is believed to play an important role in regulating the production of cells, a control that is missing in cancer. It has a protective effect against certain cancers by preventing overproduction of cells.

Diabetes

In type 1 diabetes the immune system destroys its own cells. Vitamin D is believed to act as an immunosuppressant. Researchers believe it may prevent an overly aggressive response from the immune system.

High blood pressure

Vitamin D is used by the parathyroid glands that sit on the thyroid gland in the neck. These secrete a hormone that regulates the body’s calcium levels. Calcium, in turn, helps to regulate blood pressure, although the mechanism is not yet completely understood.

Schizophrenia

The chance of developing schizophrenia could be linked to how sunny it was in the months before birth. A lack of sunlight can lead to vitamin D deficiency, which scientists believe could alter the growth of a child’s brain in the womb.

Multiple sclerosis

Lack of vitamin D leads to limited production of 1.25-dihydroxyvitamin D3, the hormonal form of vitamin D3 which regulates the immune system, creating a risk for MS.

The vitamin strengthens bones, protecting against childhood rickets and osteoporosis in the elderly.  A daily dose of vitamin D could cut the risk of cancers of the breast, colon and ovary by up to a half, a 40-year review of research has found. The evidence for the protective effect of the “sunshine vitamin” is so overwhelming that urgent action must be taken by public health authorities to boost blood levels, say cancer specialists.

A growing body of evidence in recent years has shown that lack of vitamin D may have lethal effects. Heart disease, lung disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis are among the conditions in which it is believed to play a vital role. The vitamin is also essential for bone health and protects against rickets in children and osteoporosis in the elderly.

Vitamin D is made by the action of sunlight on the skin, which accounts for 90 per cent of the body’s supply. But the increasing use of sunscreens and the reduced time spent outdoors, especially by children, has contributed to what many scientists believe is an increasing problem of vitamin D deficiency.

After assessing almost every scientific paper published on the link between vitamin D and cancer since the 1960s, US scientists say that a daily dose of 1,000 international units (25 micrograms) is needed to keep up health. ” The high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency combined with the discovery of increased risks of certain types of cancer in those who are deficient, suggest that vitamin D deficiency may account for several thousand premature deaths from colon, breast, ovarian and other cancers annually,” they say in the online version of the American Journal of Public Health.

The dose they propose of 1,000IU a day is two-and-a-half times the current recommended level in the US. In the UK, there is no official recommended dose but grey skies and short days from October to March mean 60 per cent of the population has inadequate blood levels by the end of winter.  The UK Food Standards Agency maintains that most people should be able to get all the vitamin D they need from their diet and “by getting a little sun”. But the vitamin can only be stored in the body for 60 days.  High rates of heart disease in Scotland have been blamed on the weak sunlight and short summers in the north, leading to low levels of vitamin D. Differences in sunlight may also explain the higher rates of heart disease in England compared with southern Europe. Some experts believe the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet may have as much to do with the sun there as with the regional food.

Countries around the world have begun to change their warnings about the dangers of sunbathing, as a result of the growing research on vitamin D. The Association of Cancer Councils of Australia acknowledged this year for the first time that some exposure to the sun was healthy.  Australia is one of the world’s sunniest countries and has among the highest rates of skin cancer. For three decades it has preached sun avoidance with its “slip, slap, slop” campaign to cover up and use sunscreen. But in a statement in March, the association said: “A balance is required between avoiding an increase in the risk of skin cancer and achieving enough ultraviolet radiation exposure to meet adequate vitamin D levels.” Bruce Armstrong, the professor of public health at Sydney University, said: ” It is a revolution.”

In the latest study, cancer specialists from the University of San Diego, California, led by Professor Cedric Garland, reviewed 63 scientific papers on the link between vitamin D and cancer published between 1966 and 2004. People living in the north-eastern US, where it is less sunny, and African Americans with darker skins were more likely to be deficient, researchers found. They also had higher cancer rates.

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