Pioneering vitamin D researcher Dr Cedric Garland had an extraordinary message to deliver to delegates at a medical conference in Toronto, Canada in November 2009:
Breast cancer is a disease so directly related to vitamin D deficiency, that a woman could virtually eliminate her risk of developing breast cancer by restoring her vitamin D levels to optimal.
His research has found a whopping 77% reduction in breast cancer risk in women who raised their vitamin D status to what he, and other vitamin D researchers, consider ideal.
For some time now, I have been urging all my clients to have their vitamin D level checked. It is extraordinary that in this 'sunburnt country', so many people could be deficient in the sunshine vitamin, but I have found that very few of my clients have optimal vitamin D levels, and most are borderline to severely deficient. This is especially the case among my clients who have cancer.
The anti-skin cancer message to stay out of the sun and use sunscreen whenever you're out in it has, unfortunately, been rather too successful. Between excessive sun phobia and more indoor-centred lifestyles, few Australians are getting enough sun exposure to produce adequate vitamin D. The problem is compounded for people with dark skin (who require a lot more sun exposure to make enough vitamin D);people over the age of 65, who are 4 times less efficient at making vitamin D in their bodies from sunshine than younger people; people in the southernmost parts of Australia, particularly Tasmania (living in a southerly latitude leads to weaker sun exposure for larger chunks of the year); andMuslim women who wear clothes that prevent any sun exposure.
Vitamin D was once thought of as only being important for bone health: it helps us absorb calcium from our food; and interestingly, a high-calcium diet, or high-dose calcium supplementation, interferes with the conversion of vitamin D into its biologically active form.
It's now known that virtually every cell in the body has a receptor for vitamin D, which is actually a hormone that helps control normal cell growth. Dr Garland also presented intriguing new evidence that vitamin D helps normal cells 'stick together' and stay in the right place in the body. Low vitamin D levels compromise the integrity of this calcium-based cellular bonding within tissues, allowing rogue cancer cells to spread more readily - the deadly process of metastasis.
More than 3000 academic papers on vitamin D research have been published in 2009 alone, making it the hottest topic in medical research this year.
What is the ideal level of vitamin D?
Grassroots Health's "D-action" panel - 30 of the world's leading researchers on vitamin D, and many other vitamin D supporters - recommend vitamin D blood levels of 100-150 nanomoles per litre as measured by a vitamin D blood test. Unfortunately, the reference standard for vitamin D adequacy used by testing laboratories in Australia is only 50 nmol/L. As a result, many people are being told by their GPs that their vitamin D level is 'normal' when it is actually way below optimal.
Sun exposure is the most efficient source of vitamin D: half an hour of early morning or late afternoon direct sunshine on uncovered skin, without sunscreen, is sufficient to maintain vitamin D stores in the warmer months of the year - except for those in the 'special categories' listed above. However, colder temperatures, shorter days and the lower zenith angle of the sun in the winter months, prevent most people from getting enough sunlight for optimal vitamin D production in late autumn and winter. Additionally, many people just don't get outdoors enough at any time of year.
As a consequence, many people require dietary supplementation of vitamin D to achieve optimal blood levels. Fortunately, dietary supplementation is cheap and very safe; many vitamin D researchers are now using quite large doses in some at-risk population groups, without encountering any toxicity symptoms.
Request a 25-hydroxyvitamin D blood test from your GP, and get a copy of your result to bring to your consultation, so that I can tell you exactly what dose of vitamin D you'll need in order to boost your level to optimal. Regular monitoring is a must, so I can adjust the dosage schedule to maintain your vitamin D status at a 'disease-proofing' level.
Need advice on vitamin D testing and supplementation, and/or cancer prevention? Contact me today or book a consultation online.
Read my other articles on cancer here.