I recently came across a health blog post detailing some research on vitamin D and prostate health. It made me curious and so I started looking at more research on vitamin D and cancer in general and I couldn’t believe how much research there was out there.
Yes, Vitamin D will impact heart health, autoimmune diseases, depression, hormonal balance, periodontal disease, diabetes and more. It’s a key player in avoiding heart attacks and heart disease and keeping your heart healthy. But it’s also been shown to prevent cancer — and to improve treatment if you are diagnosed.
For the past decade of so, study after study has confirmed the importance of sunshine to our overall health and in particular, to preventing and treating cancer.
Let’s look at some of the research by cancer type and then we’ll talk about how to safely get your vitamin D while avoiding melanoma.
There’s a surprisingly rich body of research connecting sunshine and prostate health. A study in the medical journal Lancet divided participants into four groups based on their sun exposure. The group that received the least exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays was three times more likely to develop prostate cancer.
The group with the highest sun exposure reduced their risk of developing prostate cancer by 66%. The participants in the second and third groups also showed a significantly lower risk of prostate cancer than the group who spent the least time in the sun.
A study in Cancer Letters reported similar results, with adult sunbathing, regular holidays in warm climates and cumulative life sun exposure each independently and significantly associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer.
Anticancer Research reported on a clinical trial showing that 20 minutes of sun exposure for fair-skinned people and 2-4 times that for those with darker skin reduced the risk of prostate cancer and 15 other types of cancer in men and women.
A two-year long clinical trial looked at men who took a low dose of 2,000 IUs of vitamin D a day had a 50% reduction in their PSA (prostate specific antigen) levels. It also found that for those already diagnosed with prostate cancer, the risk of death was reduced by 700% with adequate vitamin D.
An Australian study several decades ago revealed the biochemical relationship between the sun and cancer inhibition when it was revealed that human breast cancer cells have receptor sites for the most active metabolite of vitamin D. Our body’s natural way of inhibiting cancer allows vitamin D to attach to the cancer cell and inhibit its growth.
Several other studies have shown that the breast cancer death rate of women in areas with low levels of sunlight such as New England was 40-60% higher than that found in sunnier areas such as Florida and Hawaii.
In 1980 a key study revealed a correlation between sun exposure and colon cancer much like that found with breast cancer. The researchers completed a follow up study and were able to show that colon cancer rates decreased with higher oral vitamin D and calcium.
Overall Cancer Impact
A study back in 1941 correlated cancer death rates to distance from the equator and found a direct correlation and an increase in mortality as distance increased. It also revealed a decrease in risk in areas where a large percentage of the population was engaged in the “sun-intensive occupation of farming.”
A large scale, randomized, placebo-controlled study looked at 1200 women over age 55 over the course of four years and found that the group who received supplemental calcium and vitamin D were 60% less likely to be diagnosed with cancer than those who received the placebo.
Yet another study showed that 30% of cancer deaths could be prevented EACH YEAR with higher levels of vitamin D. One doctor went as far as to say he thought it “bordered on criminal malpractice or at least gross medical negligence” not to ensure that a cancer patient has optimal vitamin D levels.
According to Dr. Mercola, the reason Vitamin D is so effective is because it performs several critical functions with regard to cancer:
- Vitamin D accelerates mutated cell self-destruction (if these damaged cells replicated, it could lead to cancer);
- Vitamin D slows the reproduction and spread of cancer cells;
- Vitamin D causes cell differentiation (cancer cells are often undifferentiated); and
- Vitamin D reduces new blood vessel growth from pre-existing, which is one step in the process that occurs through which dormant tumors become cancerous.
So many of us are vitamin D deficient and are not leveraging our bodies’ full immune system anti-cancer fighting potential. The single best way to stay healthy is regular sun exposure and I’m going to talk about what that means in a moment. But for the extremely rare percent of the population who needs to avoid sun, you can get vitamin D from foods such as small fish, eggs, cheese and mushrooms. But you’ll have to eat a lot of them to get to optimal levels!
Another option is to go back to grandmother’s cod liver oil. It tastes much better than the form you had as a kid and you can get 1300 IUs from a tablespoon. Or you can take a vitamin D supplement. Vitamin D is one of the only supplements proven to work even if taken in isolation.
You’ll want to avoid prescription or synthetic vitamin D as it is typically vitamin D2, which is less bioavailable. Make sure you choose D3 cholecalciferol and while we talked specific ways to determine your best dose in the previous article, if you are not actively exposed to sun, you probably need about 5000 IUs a day.
Keep in mind that vitamin D is fat-soluble, so you need to take it with a healthy form of fat, whether you eat something with butter or olive oil or take an omega 3 along with it.
If you can, sunscreen-free exposure to sunlight is the preferred form of vitamin D. Our bodies evolved over thousands of years while exposed to sun. As the seasons changed, we slowly built up our tolerance and in warmer climates our darker skin protected us enabling us to be out for longer periods of time (which is why darker skin tones need 40-60 minutes of sun a day to optimize their vitamin D levels; they have more protection.)
Sunlight activation has been shown in research to be our most effective source of vitamin D. Regular sunlight is shown to inhibit cancer cell growth and reduce the fatality rate of diagnosed cancers: Sunlight is part of our body’s natural healing process. But what about melanoma? So many people today avoid the sun in fear of this deadly form of skin cancer.
But here’s what you should know. According to Dr. Mercola, “sunlight has a paradoxical relationship with melanoma, in that severe sun burning initiates melanoma whereas long-term regular sun exposure inhibits melanoma.” In other words, severe sun burning (blister and peel burning before age 20) has been shown to be connected to melanoma, while healthy sunbathing has been shown to reduce it.
And it’s important to keep in mind that melanoma is a relatively rare form of fatal cancer, with an annual death rate of about 8700 fatalities a year. But sun exposure has been shown to prevent 40,000 breast cancer deaths, 32,000 prostate cancer deaths, and 51,000 colon cancer deaths a year. So as long as you take care to avoid serious burn, that’s a pretty good risk-reward equation.
There have begun to be some studies done to connect the advent of sunscreen to our increased cancer rates but it will likely be awhile before all those dots are connected. Next week, though, I’ll share some of the information out there about the benefits and the harms of sunscreen.
In the meantime, healthy small dose sun exposure may be one of the single best things you can do for your health. I try to get out for 20-30 minutes each and every day I can and supplement to make up when I can’t.
There is some research tying melanoma to “blister and peel” sun burning before age 20, so it’s important to protect from serious burns, especially among children. If you are going to be out all day, especially around water, sunscreen may be unavoidable (more on that next week!) but the best way to prevent a burn is to get regular exposure early in the season or small dose exposure as soon as you are able in order to “build your base.”
The intensity of the sun’s rays varies based on geography, time of day, time of year, purity of the air, sensitivity of skin and degree to which you are tanned, so starting small and building gradually works best. Just enough sun to turn it lightly pink is all you need. The more of your body is exposed, the less time you need to be out.
85% of Americans and 95% of senior citizens are estimated to be vitamin D deficient and that doesn’t mean the remainder of us are at optimal levels so most all of us need sun exposure and if not, or perhaps in addition, a good vitamin D3 supplement.
There are guidelines you can use to guesstimate desired levels until you get tested but ultimately, testing is the only way to know where your levels lie. (And most of us should test in both winter and summer to see how our levels shift by season.) For more details on how to measure and monitor your vitamin D levels and what optimal levels are, see the previous article on vitamin D. But now that summer weather is here, don’t be afraid to get outside and garden, go for a walk, read the paper, or just meditate.
If you’re in a warm climate, go early in the morning or later in the day. But in addition to heart health and cancer prevention, you’ll find vitamin D reduces depression and improves your mood. Regular exposure will leave you happier and healthier and that’s a great benefit for 20-30 minutes a day!
To your wellness and health: your true wealth!
Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal at www.IngerPols.com