At one of my last endocrinologist visits, the doctor suggested I have my Vitamin D levels tested, stating that Vitamin D deficiency is nearly universal these days. What!? This is not Seattle and I dont just live in the Sunshine State. I play tennis, golf, run, walk the dogs, and swim, all in our super-strenght UV rays. I couldnt possibly be deficient in the so-called sunshine vitamin. Wrong!
Apparently Im quite deficient. Im supposed to take 2,000 IU of D3 until I get my stored levels back up to at least 20 ng/mL. Simple enough right, especially given I just buy the 2,000 IU capsules, which translates into exactly 1 capsule/day – not a big deal. Oh but it is!!!
Im lucky if I remember to pop those capsules twice-a-week. When I do, I try to make up for missed days in one quick series of swallows – 4 or even 5 capsules with breakfast. The doctor said I can safely double or triple my serving size to make up for my vitamin pill-popping negligence. I had nearly concluded that its hopeless however, that I am a complete failure at popping vitamins on a regular basis, the only way they do their intended job. And then the news.
One study (summarized here) conducted by a team of English and Canadian scientists, revealed a detailed map of the molecular interactions between vitamin D and certain genes. The map showed extensive connections between the vitamin and certain genes associated with cancer and autoimmune diseases. Genes involved in autoimmune disease and cancer were regulated by vitamin D, study author Dr. Sreeram Ramagopalan of Oxford University told WebMD.
In another study, women with plasma concentrations of vitamin D less than 20 ng/mL were eight times more likely to be diagnosed with regional or distant spread of cancer when compared with women who had sufficient levels of the vitamin, after statistical adjustments, according to Susan Steck, PhD, MPH, of the University of South Carolina in Columbia. Read more about it here.
Back in February of 2010, it was reported that vitamin D can actually kill human cancer cells. Watch vitamin D kill human breast cancer cells in a petri dish here. JoEllen Welsh treated human (not rodent) breast cancer cells with a potent form of vitamin D and reports that within a few days of doing so, half the cancer cells shrivel up and die. Welsh says the vitamin has the same effect as drugs such as Tamoxifen, a chemotherapy drug used to treat breast cancer.
As for rodents, the vitamins effects were even more dramatic on their breast cancer cells. After several weeks of treatment, the tumors in the mice shrank by an average of more than 50 percent, and some tumors even disappeared.
Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News senior health and medical editor cautions that people shouldnt read too much into these laboratory studies and points out the positive effects in a petri dish or in mice may not translate into similar results in humans.
So here I am, a previvor from 3 generations of breast cancer, having gone to drastic and bold lengths to reduce my risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Hopeful? Extremely. Confused and skeptacle?
Initially, upon reading about the above studies, I was seeing the $$$$, thinking this was just one more opportunity for some dietary supplement or pharmaceutical company to profit, but I kept reading
Among so-called vitamins, vitamin D is said to be in a class by itself in that it behaves more like a hormone. After being made in the skin, it travels through our bloodstream, into the liver and kidney, where it is activated as a key steroid hormone called Calcitrol. From there, it goes to the intestines, bones and other tissues. Vitamin Ds active form is thought to interact with almost every cell in the body directly or indirectly, targeting up to two thousand genes, or about 6 percent of the human genome. Apparently, almost every cell and tissue in our body has vitamin D receptors, which tells me this is one important nutrient.
So I m turning a new leaf. As of today, Im not neglecting those 1 per day capsules. My doc says I only need to take them until I get my stored levels back up to at least 20ng/mL. After that, Ill be making a conscious effort to get consistent, safe sun exposure, which at our latitude and with my love of outdoor sports shouldnt be too difficult.
As for food sources of vitamin D? My doctor told me Id need to drink about 40 glasses of milk/day to get my 2,000 daily IUs. I think I read that one spoonful of cod liver oil supplies about 400 IUs, enough to prevent rickets, so Id be looking at 5 spoonfuls of cod liver oil per day. Anyone else gagging at the thought? Or maybe 20 glasses of milk with 2.5 spoonfuls of cod liver oil blended in? What if I add in some UV rays? Then what?
Like everything from wine to salt, from fats to sugar, to time in front of my computer screen, to time in the sun, the key is moderation. Ill make a conscious effort to get as much sun as I safely can, consume vitamin D foods as consistently as I can, take my supplements until my stored levels are up, and then ask the doc to monitor my levels from time-to-time. What about you?
Susan Beausang, President, 4Women.com