Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Breast Cancer Prevention Month: Vitamin D

As today is the last day of October, it is also the last day of Breast Cancer Prevention Month here at The Verbal Herbal. There are so many topics that I wanted to talk about this month, but since this is my last post of the month, I wanted to make sure I talked about Vitamin D. Research on Vitamin D has been all the crazy these past few years and for just cause. So much of the population is vitamin D deficient and I feel that this is a contributing factor to breast cancer risk and incidence.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin. There are several different forms of vitamin D. Cholecalciferol, Vitamin D3, is made when cholesterol in the skin is exposed to UV rays of the sun. Ergocalciferol, Vitamin D2, is made by exposing ergosterol, a fatty substance found in plants, to UV light. This form is then used to fortify foods. We produce thousands of units of vitamin D within minutes if the whole body is exposed to sunlight and if we get too much vitamin D through sunlight, the body can de-metabolize it, avoiding toxicity. This is not a protection that we get when taking supplements of vitamin D.
What does it do?
Before it was discovered in 1924, rickets was a common issue among children. This bone crippling disease was thought to be due to either dietary factors (lack of calcium) or due to a lack of sunshine (Vitamin D) and it turns out that both theories were correct. Rickets is due to a lack of calcium; however, vitamin D is needed to help absorption of calcium in the intestine. Until recently, it was thought that Vitamin D was only necessary for bone health; however, it is now shown that every cell in the body has vitamin D receptors, helping to control normal cell growth. It also has an action in the immune system.
Where do you find vitamin D?
  • Sunshine!!!!! It’s free so get yours today!
  • Seafood like salmon, herring, catfisk, mackerel, oysters, sardines and steelhead trout
  • Cod liver oil
  • Fortified milk
  • Supplements: 2,000 to 4,000 IU a day of vitamin D is enough to avoid deficiency
Vitamin D-ficient?
Overall, Vitamin D deficiency has become an epidemic. 40-60 ng/ml of vitamin D are needed to have sufficient levels and anywhere from 50 to 90% of all men and women are vitamin D deficient. The best way to tell if you are deficient is to get a blood test. But most people don’t know about it because it isn’t something that the doctors usually do, or even talk about. Doctors need a wakeup call! Vitamin D deficiency is a serious issue and by making your patients more aware of this issue, you can prevent a number of serious health issues and save lives (end of rant)!
You can also tell if you are deficient based on a symptom picture including muscle pain, weak bones or fractures, low energy and fatigue, lower immunity, depression, mood swings and sleep irregularities. These symptoms can also be representative of other health issues so I would stick with a blood test as the best diagnostic tool.
So the question becomes why is there such an overwhelming incidence of vitamin D deficiency? I feel there are several factors contributing to the problem:
  • A Lack of Sunshine: We have evolved with the sun to the point that is has become a necessary part of our health. Overall, people are now spending more time inside. Kids are playing on their computers and gaming systems instead of playing outside with their friends, and adults aren’t much better. We go from home to car to work and then back to car and home. The sunlight we are exposed to in the car, doesn’t help because window glass blocks vitamin D formation.
  • Sunscreen: When we are outside, we have been brain washed into thinking that sunscreen is necessary to prevent skin cancer. Well, sunscreen also blocks the formation of vitamin D in the skin and low vitamin D is also known to cause cancer. Get the low down on Sunscreen.
  • Lack of cholesterol: Our society is fixated on the fact that high cholesterol causes heart disease (studies have mixed findings on this claim). So as a result, so much of the population is on medication to reduce cholesterol in the body. What the doctors don’t tell you is that cholesterol is found in every cell in the body and it is needed for production of new cells and for the production of vitamin D.
  • Other Factors: Darker skin produces less vitamin D as does locations farther from the equator and places and times of the year that receive fewer hours of sunlight.
The Link between Vitamin D and Breast Cancer
Because vitamin D regulates proper cell growth, a deficiency of this vitamin causes cancer cells to grow and spread. Studies have shown that vitamin D levels and breast cancer risk have an inverse relationship. When Vitamin D levels are high (or at least at an appropriate level) then breast cancer risk is low and vice versa. 2000 IU of Vitamin D daily can decrease breast cancer risk 77%. Decreased risk of breast cancer is associated with higher vitamin D3 serum concentrations especially in younger women.
Out of 166 women with breast cancer, approximately 70% were vitamin D deficient and the most extreme levels of deficiency was found in patients with triple-negative breast cancer, the most aggressive form of breast cancer and the least responsive to treatments.

Overall, the best way to know if you are vitamin D deficient is to go to the doctors and receive a blood test. If you find that you are deficient, 15 minutes of direct sunlight at least 3 times a week or a supplement of 2,000 IU a day of vitamin D3 can be adequate to increase your levels and decrease your risk of breast cancer. Thank you for joining the Verbal Herbal for October’s Breast Cancer Prevention Month. I hope you have found the information helpful and will share it with your loved ones so that we can help put an end to breast cancer.
Silverman, H. M., Romano, J. A., & Elmer, G. (1999). The vitamin book (Rev. ed.). New York: Bantam Books.

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