Sunday, May 11, 2008

Vitamin D and Cancer

Further proof of the important role Vitamin D plays in cancer protection was revealed in a recent issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. It discussed a twelve year study, involving more than 16,000 participants, which showed that people with the highest blood levels of vitamin D were 72% less likely to die of colon cancer than those who had the lowest levels. Current data states that colon cancer is killing 50,000 people in the U.S. per year.

To be completely honest, there's nothing new here. We are simply seeing further proof of what has been proven, seemingly beyond any reasonable doubt. If you have a lot of vitamin D coursing through your veins, you probably won't die of cancer.

What is important to realize, however, and what this study makes note of, is that this and many other positive studies involving vitamin D, have looked specifically at blood levels of vitamin D, not supplemental intake. Studies looking at the prevention of cancer and other chronic diseases from taking vitamin D supplements are less prevalent than those looking simply at blood levels.

In other words, while we know that the vitamin D we get "the natural way" (i.e. from our skin creating is when exposed to the sun) is helpful, we don't know for sure if supplements have exactly the same benefit.

So, what is a Portlander (or anyone else living in a less than balmy environment) to do? Well, try as hard as you can to get in the sun as often as possible for starters. Next, test your blood levels of vitamin D at least a couple times a year to see where they are at. (contact me if you have to pay more than $46 for this test) If they are low, I would start taking a concentrated, high-dose form of cod liver oil (containing at least 500 iu per 1/2 tsp).

I am absolutely convinced that food based forms of vitamins (cod liver oil is the highest natural source of vitamin D) are superior to isolated or synthetic nutrients in terms of absorption and safety. I also think that, in the case of vitamin D, when we aren't sure how well taking it compared to making it works for us, our best bet in supplementation is the most natural form possible, i.e. high dose cod liver oil.

If you get your vitamin D levels tested and they are extremely low, you may need to augment your cod liver oil supplementation with a pure vitamin D supplement for some time. Again, the proof is less solid with this form of vitamin D, but I still believe it's far better than nothing, and I've certainly seen it raise my patients blood levels. I like to give pure vitamin D supplements (and other single nutrients when necessary) along with the food or foods that naturally contain it, as doing so will provide a myriad of other nutrients and cofactors that your body is used to seeing come along with that nutrient.

For more info on the value of whole food supplements, be sure to read my article at The Truth About Whole Food Supplements.