Vitamin D: The Wonder Vitamin That May Help You Prevent 16 Types of Cancer

Story at-a-glance -

  • Theories linking vitamin D deficiency to cancer have been tested and confirmed in more than 200 epidemiological studies, and understanding of its physiological basis stems from more than 2,500 laboratory studies.
  • Optimizing your vitamin D levels could help you to prevent at least 16 different types of cancer including pancreatic, lung, ovarian, prostate, and skin cancers. Overall, optimal vitamin D levels can cut cancer risk by as much as 60 percent, according to one large-scale, randomized, placebo-controlled study.
  • The most important factor is your vitamin D serum level. In order to help prevent a wide variety of diseases and health ailments, your vitamin D level needs to be between 50 and 70 ng/ml year-round.
  • The ideal way to optimize your vitamin D level is through sun exposure or a safe tanning bed. As a very general guide, you need to expose about 40 percent of your entire body for approximately 20 minutes to the sun, between the hours of 10 am and 2 pm, when the sun is at its zenith.
  • According to recent findings from the D* Action study, adults need about 8,000 IU’s of oral vitamin D3 per day in order to get serum levels above 40 ng/ml.

By Dr. Mercola

Carole Baggerly is the director and founder of an organization called GrassrootsHealth, which is primarily focused on creating awareness about the profound importance of vitamin D for optimal health.

They're also developing and substantiating research to support the use of vitamin D as a prevention strategy against diseases like cancer.

Carole's interest in this field began with a breast cancer diagnosis in 2005. She underwent the conventional Cut, Poison, Burn model of cancer treatment, which included a mastectomy, radiation, and chemo.

"My conclusion at that time was that it was barbaric," she says. "All of a sudden I realized the violence that was being done to my body. 

…[A]t one point during the chemo I was taking a particular drug that was so painful.  It was Paclitaxel and it caused extreme peripheral neuropathy; pain in the hands and the feet.  I couldn't walk…

I talked to the doctor about it and he says, "You only have two more treatments of that left." I did one and said, "I'm not going to do the next one," and he walked out of the room! That was my first indication about the mental investment of a doctor in the treatment, as opposed to the patient. I was appalled." 

Vitamin D and Cancer

Two years later, Carole was diagnosed with osteoporosis, likely caused by a vitamin D deficiency. This diagnosis quickly led her to also research vitamin D deficiency in relation to cancer, and as the saying goes, the rest is history.

"Dr. Cedric Garland of UC San Diego School of Medicine and Moores Cancer Center had just published a paper saying that the risk of breast cancer could be cut by 50 percent if people had vitamin D serum levels – this is a blood level of how much vitamin D you've got – somewhere about 40 to 50 nanograms per milliliter.  I just sat there and looked at that, and I started crying, [thinking] this can't be true… I'm a very skeptical scientist," she says.

She made some calls to verify the veracity of the study, and discovered that the author, Dr. Garland, was not only well-respected, but had researched vitamin D and cancer for 30 years. In May of that year, she attended a conference focused specifically on vitamin D and cancer, sponsored by the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland.

"For two solid days, I listened to reports by scientists from all over the world talking about vitamin D and cancer," she says. "Not all of them were things to jump up and down about, but there was so much there that was so positive… [but] the only action item they had was – "We need to do more research."

Carole and her husband, Leo (a physicist and a researcher who currently works with the kinetics of vitamin D) set off to meet with scientists across the country and Canada to devise a plan of action.  She was determined to get the message out about vitamin D's connection to cancer and other diseases, and GrassrootsHealth was subsequently created for that purpose.

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Can Vitamin D Reduce Breast Cancer by 77 Percent?

While more research is always welcome, Carole is convinced that vitamin D can have a very real impact on cancer rates.

"[A] randomized trial… published in 2007 by Joan Lappe out of Creighton University… had a group of about 1,100 post-menopausal women who started out with no cancer (plus control group)… One group got [oral] vitamin D [and calcium] and the other got a placebo. At the end of four years, there was a 77 percent difference in cancer incidence between those that had the vitamin D and calcium versus the placebo.  So something is working," she says.

Her conviction is not surprising when you consider that theories linking vitamin D to certain cancers have been tested and confirmed in more than 200 epidemiological studies, and understanding of its physiological basis stems from more than 2,500 laboratory studies, according to epidemiologist Cedric Garland, DrPH, professor of family and preventive medicine at the UC San Diego School of Medicine. Here are just a few highlights into some of the most noteworthy findings:

  • Some 600,000 cases of breast and colorectal cancers could be prevented each year if vitamin D levels among populations worldwide were increased, according to previous research by Dr. Garland and colleagues. And that's just counting the death toll for two types of cancer.
  • Optimizing your vitamin D levels could help you to prevent at least 16 different types of cancer including pancreatic, lung, ovarian, prostate, and skin cancers.
  • A large-scale, randomized, placebo-controlled study on vitamin D and cancer showed that vitamin D can cut overall cancer risk by as much as 60 percent. This was such groundbreaking news that the Canadian Cancer Society has actually begun endorsing the vitamin as a cancer-prevention therapy.
  • Light-skinned women who had high amounts of long-term sun exposure had half the risk of developing advanced breast cancer (cancer that spreads beyond your breast) as women with lower amounts of regular sun exposure, according to a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
  • A study by Dr. William Grant, Ph.D., internationally recognized research scientist and vitamin D expert, found that about 30 percent of cancer deaths -- which amounts to 2 million worldwide and 200,000 in the United States -- could be prevented each year with higher levels of vitamin D.

It's Not the Dosage that Matters—It's the Serum Level

There are currently 40 leading vitamin D experts from around the world on the GrassrootsHealth panel, and everyone agrees that the most important factor is the vitamin D serum level. There's no specific dosage level at which "magic" happens.  So while I will convey the recommended dosages in a moment, the most important message is that you need to take whatever dosage required to obtain a therapeutic level of vitamin D in your blood.

At the time (in 2007) the recommended level was between 40 to 60 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml). Since then, the optimal vitamin D level has been raised to 50-70 ng/ml, and when treating cancer or heart disease, as high as 70-100 ng/ml.

vitamin d levels

Sun Exposure is the BEST Way to Optimize Your Vitamin D Levels

In a recent interview, Dr. Stephanie Seneff brought the importance of getting your vitamin D from sun exposure to a whole new level. I've consistently recommended getting your vitamin D from regular sun exposure whenever possible, and Dr. Seneff's review of how vitamin D—specifically from sun exposure—is intricately tied to healthy cholesterol and sulfur levels, makes this recommendation all the more important. To review the details, please refer to that interview.

However, as a quick summary, when you expose your skin to sunshine, your skin synthesizes vitamin D3 sulfate. This form of vitamin D is water soluble, unlike oral vitamin D3 supplements, which is unsulfated. The water soluble form can travel freely in your blood stream, whereas the unsulfated form needs LDL (the so-called "bad" cholesterol) as a vehicle of transport. Her suspicion is that the oral non-sulfated form of vitamin D may not provide all of the same benefits as the vitamin D created in your skin from sun exposure, because it cannot be converted to vitamin D sulfate.

I believe this is a very compelling reason to really make a concerted effort to get ALL your vitamin D requirements from exposure to sunshine, or by using a tanning bed (one with electronic ballasts rather than magnetic ballasts, to avoid unnecessary exposure to EMF fields).

Carole agrees that sun exposure is ideal as it may also provide other health benefits that we simply don't fully understand yet. Lack of sun exposure is also the very root of the problem. Vitamin D deficiency is, after all, a fairly recent health concern, historically speaking.

"I think it is obvious that the reason we have this deficiency is because we have become an industrialized nation," she says. "… What we've done is we've come inside.  We cover up.  Even in San Diego where I live, when they measured my level it was 18 ng/ml.

When we did a scientific test of what it's going to take to get enough sun in San Diego… at my age – age is a factor in how much you absorb – we came to a test conclusion that it was going take 15 to 20 minutes a day in the prime time of UV, between 10 am and 2 pm, each and every day… with 40 percent of my body exposed.  … I encourage people to take advantage of the sun.  The only message I have about the sun is: don't burn.  That's it."

If You're Taking an Oral Vitamin D Supplement, How Much Do You Need?

GrassrootsHealth has greatly contributed to the current knowledge on vitamin D through what's called the D* Action Study.

"We just published our very first paper," Carole says. "We have about 10 people in this study now that are taking 50,000 IU a day and they're not reaching a potential toxicity level of 200 ng/ml.  It should be noted, however, that this is not a recommended intake level. The study reported data on about over 3,500 people.

… One very significant thing shown by this research was that even with taking the supplement, the curve for the increase in the vitamin D level is not linear. It is curvilinear and it flattens, which is why it's even hard to get toxic with a supplement." 

Based on this research, it now appears as though most adults need about 8,000 IU's of vitamin D a day in order to get their serum levels above 40 ng/ml.  Not only is this significantly higher than previously recommended, but this also means that even if you do not regularly monitor your vitamin D levels, your risk of overdosing is going to be fairly slim, even if you take as much as 8,000 IU's a day. This is the type of vital information that is so sorely needed, and GrassrootsHealth is really serving an unprecedented service to all of mankind for facilitating this much needed research.

Study Participants Needed

You too can be of great help to further this cause. D*Action is a worldwide public health campaign, aiming to solve the vitamin D deficiency epidemic through focus on testing, education, and grassroots word of mouth. And while one paper has already been published, this GrassrootsHealth study is still ongoing, and accepting participants.

When you join D*action, you agree to test your vitamin D levels twice a year during a five year program, and share your health status to demonstrate the public health impact of this nutrient. There is a $60 fee each 6 months ($120/year) for your sponsorship of the project, which includes a complete new test kit to be used at home, and electronic reports on your ongoing progress.

You will get a follow up email every six months reminding you "it's time for your next test and health survey." To join now, please follow this link to the sign up form.

Mercola Subscribers Fare Better than the Average Person…

"Let me tell you a little bit about your audience," Carole says. "You put out a call to people to enroll in this project last year, and a number of people did… What is interesting is that [one of the data points] we tracked… was the average serum level of the first time tester – how many people are below 40 ng/ml was really what I wanted to address.

Mercola subscribers came in with fully 40 percent [having levels] below 40 ng/ml, but out of the whole population, more like 50 percent [have levels below 40 ng/ml]. So the Mercola subscribers that were coming in weren't high enough yet, but they were taking supplements and doing something… By their second test, the Mercola group raised itself up higher than the average group did… So you already have a beautiful group of listeners who are paying attention!"

My passion, and one of the primary reasons I started this site, is to take leading edge research from scientists who have limited means with which to share their message, and provide an audience for them to get these vital messages out to the public. Oftentimes the remedy we so desperately seek is staggeringly simple, such as raising your vitamin D levels! It's very inexpensive (or free if you just use sun exposure) and can provide tremendous health benefits.

World's First Breast Cancer Prevention Study Underway!

In addition to the ongoing D* Action study, Carole is now in the process of initiating the world's first breast cancer prevention project and study. I have tried to work with almost every breast cancer group around the country," she says. But interestingly enough, only ONE group called, is paying any attention to prevention. Most health practitioners mistakenly think of mammography as prevention, but getting a yearly mammogram will do absolutely nothing to help you prevent breast cancer. If anything, research shows it may actually be a compounding risk factor in and of itself, as repeated radiation contributes to the development of cancer.

So Carole is currently developing a project to really investigate and evaluate vitamin D as a preventive strategy for breast cancer. The project is already underway and Carole herself is funding the first 1,000 women that sign up in October, 'Breast Cancer Prevention Month'.  Women 60 and over with no current cancer or current treatment are eligible for the study.  You can sign up here if you're eligible.

"We are looking now for some really serious funding to support that as a major research project," she says. "… I still care about all of the other vitamin D issues.  But I really felt like the breast cancer patients had been deserted, and I just couldn't desert them.  I'm one of them… There is a way! So I've got to look for help to get the message out to people dealing with breast cancer.  That's what we're doing."

Donations can be made here.

The trial is essentially identical to the D* Action study, but focused on breast cancer, opposed to overall health status. Needless to say, I will keep you updated on the progress and ultimate findings of that project!

+ Sources and References