Thursday, December 01, 2011 by: Tara Green
In the Lab
In a laboratory study JoEllen Welsh, a researcher with the State University of New York at Albany, took human breast cancer cells and treated them with a potent form of vitamin D. The cancer cells shriveled and died within a few days of exposure to megadoses of “the sunshine vitamin.”
“Vitamin D enters the cells and triggers the cell death process,” said Welsh. She described the processes as “similar to when we treat cells with Tamoxifren [anti-cancer drug which causes adverse reactions in many women].” Researchers repeated the petri-dish experiment in mice, injecting them first with breast cancer cells and then with Vitamin D. After several weeks, the cancer tumors in the mice shrank by 50 percent.
Experiments outside laboratories have so far focused on vitamin D’s preventive effects on cancer. A French study released early in 2011 found that higher levels of vitamin D, obtained through diet and supplements, helped reduce the risk of breast cancer. Most significantly, the 10-year study involving over 60,000 post-menopausal women found that the effects of the nutritional vitamin D were boosted when women received greater exposure to actual sunshine.
Researchers, led by Dr. Pierre Engel of the INSERM (Institut National de la Sante et de la Recherche Medicale, the French equivalent to the National Institutes of Health in the U.S), discovered that women living in the areas which received more sunshine had only about half the risk of breast cancer of women who made their homes in areas with less sun.
The sunshine seems to offer a more powerful healing effect than supplements: women who consumed less vitamin D but who got lots of sunshine had a 32 percent lower risk of breast cancer than dwelling in less sunny regions. However, the greatest protection from breast cancer was among women who consumed the high levels of dietary vitamin D and who also received regular, generous sun exposure.
Vitamin D deficiency
At a 2010 conference in Toronto on vitamin D, researcher Dr. Cedric Garland explicitly referred to breast cancer as a disease of vitamin D deficiency, stating that it could be “virtually eradicated” through increased levels of the vitamin. Garland also emphasized the importance of sunshine as a source of vitamin D.
Vitamin D’s benefits extend beyond breast health. Recent research has shown it to aid in preventing skin and colon cancers. Also, there is evidence that vitamin D deficiency may be a contributing factor in a host of other ailments besides cancer: depression, obesity, diabetes, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis and osteoporosis.
The ABC’s of vitamin D
The US RDA for vitamin D is 200 IU for those 50 years old or younger; 400 IU for people older than 50-70 and 600 IU for people over 70. However, most alternative health experts believe these recommendations are too low. Dr. Andrew Weil recently raised his recommendation of vitamin D from 1, 000 to 2,000 IU per day. A study appearing earlier this year in Anticancer Research suggests that the cancer protection benefits require much higher levels–4,000 – 8,000 IU per day for adults.
Vitamin D is actually a hormone which enables the body to better absorb calcium. People with dark skin have more difficulty synthesizing vitamin D, as do other hereditary factors. Obesity can also interfere with vitamin D. Certain medications such as anti-seizure drugs and the use of sunscreens block vitamin D. Although vitamin D can be absorbed through the skin from sunshine, in latitudes higher than Atlanta, Georgia the sun is at too low an angle for 6-9 months of the year to provide sufficient UV radiation. By visiting a physician, or through mail order tests, you can have your vitamin D levels tested to ascertain that you have high enough levels (50 and 70 ng/mL) of this health-giving vitamin. The best dietary source of vitamin D is unrefined cod liver oil. Egg yolks (choose eggs from free-range rather than factory farms), salmon, mackerel and mushrooms also provide vitamin D.