By Dr. Mercola
Have you checked your vitamin D status lately? Ideally, you want to maintain a vitamin D level of 40 to 60 ng/ml year-round. Based on mounting research, 40 ng/ml appears to be the "magic" number at which a whole host of health benefits are reaped.
Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to a variety of illnesses,1 including heart disease, stroke, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis, cognitive decline, Alzheimer's disease, infectious diseases, and several deadly cancers.
This includes cancers of the breast, colon, prostate, ovaries, esophagus, lymphatic system, and even melanoma.
Vitamin D Lowers Overall Mortality Risk
It's no surprise then that the Institute of Medicine (IOM) reports an association between vitamin D and overall mortality risk.2 In one 54-month long study3 involving more than 422,800 healthy adults, those who were most deficient in vitamin D had an 88 percent increased risk of death from any cause.
This is the kind of benefit I'm talking about when I say it would be wise to temper fears of melanoma — the deadliest form of skin cancer — and weigh that risk against other benefits, such as a significantly reduced risk of death from any disease.
Moreover, by adhering to sensible sun exposure guidelines and making sure you do not get burned, you can maximize your benefits and minimize the risks of skin damage that could lead to skin cancer. On the whole, overexposure, not avoiding all sun exposure, is the real problem when it comes to raising your risk for skin cancer.4
Please Read This Important FTC Article!
In a highly controversial action last week, the FTC had me stop selling our UV light systems which they classified as tanning beds but I was providing as a far more effective option for vitamin D to the hundreds of millions of people who don't have access to enough sunshine.
The legal battles with the FTC lasted a few years and required me to travel to Washington DC to meet with the FTC attorneys to work through these issues. I finally chose the lesser of all the evil options that were available to me.
If you have not yet read my detailed rebuttal to the FTC's action against me please do so now and let me know what you think about this important health freedom threat. I really am interested in hearing what your thoughts are on this important issue. Your input on this means a lot to me, Thanks for taking the time to respond.
Higher Vitamin D = Lower Cancer Risk
Previous research found that a vitamin D level of 50 ng/ml was associated with a 50 percent lower risk of breast cancer.5 Breast cancer patients with an average vitamin D level of 30 ng/ml were also twice as likely to survive compared to women with low levels (average 17 ng/ml). 6
Most recently, researchers at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine report that raising your serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D) to 40ng/ml can slash your risk of all invasive cancers by 67 percent..7,8,9
According to study co-author Cedric Garland, Dr.P.H.: 10
"We have quantitated the ability of adequate amounts of vitamin D to prevent all types of invasive cancer combined, which had been terra incognita until publication of this paper...
These findings support an inverse association between 25(OH)D and risk of cancer, and highlight the importance for cancer prevention of achieving a vitamin D blood serum concentration above 20 ng/ml, the concentration recommended by the IOM for bone health."
Improving Vitamin D Status is a Key Cancer Prevention Tool
By pooling data from two previous studies — one randomized trial and one cohort study, the former of which showed a 77 percent lower cancer risk for women with a vitamin D level of 40 ng/ml compared to a baseline of 28 ng/ml11 — they were able to get a much larger sample size with a broader range of vitamin D levels.
This allowed them to more accurately determine the ideal vitamin D level for cancer prevention. The study included ALL invasive cancers, with the exception of skin cancer, and had a follow-up period of nearly four years.
As reported by Science Daily:12
"In the Lappe trial cohort, the median blood serum level of 25(OH)D was 30 nanograms per milliliter. In the GrassrootsHealth prospective cohort, it was higher: 48 ng/ml.
The researchers found that the age-adjusted cancer incidence was 1,020 cases per 100,000 person-years in the Lappe cohort and 722 per 100,000 person-years in the GrassrootsHealth cohort.
Cancer incidence declined with increased 25(OH)D. Women with 25(OH)D concentrations of 40 ng/ml or greater had a 67 percent lower risk of cancer than women with levels of 20 ng/ml or less...
Primary prevention of cancer, rather than expanding early detection or improving treatment, will be essential to reversing the current upward trend of cancer incidence worldwide," the researchers wrote. "This analysis suggests that improving vitamin D status is a key prevention tool."
Research Needs to Be Translated Into Public Health Policy
In a Creighton University press release, co-author Robert Heaney, M.D. highlighted the importance of sensible sun exposure for vitamin D optimization, and the need to modify public health policy with regards to sun exposure. As noted in the press release:13
"Be sure you're getting as much vitamin D as nature would give you under natural circumstances and you were wandering around outdoors exposing a lot of skin in the summer," Heaney said. He refers to a study in which vitamin D levels were analyzed for native tribes in East Africa. They received nearly 10,000 international units per day of vitamin D and had lower cancer risk.
In 2010, the Institute of Medicine recommended a vitamin D dosage of 600 international units per day. That's not enough, says Heaney. But what is enough? For Heaney, he believes people should first discover how much vitamin D is in their blood levels...
"This is your blood level right now. You know how much you're taking; if you want it higher, increase your dose. So then everybody is in control of their own vitamin D, nutritional status that way, instead of having to be dependent on lab tests and physicians," Heaney said.
Drawing on results from his study, Heaney believes vitamin D needs to be widely discussed. "We have got to find a way to translate [these studies] into... public health policy," Heaney said."
At the end of January 2016, President Obama established the "Cancer Moonshot Task Force," with the aim of creating a comprehensive plan to "enable progress in treatment and care" of cancer.14 Optimizing vitamin D is one of the foundational recommendations that really need to be part of that plan, yet it's not — at least not yet.
How Does Vitamin D Help Protect Against Cancer?
Vitamin D influences virtually every cell in your body, and is absolutely crucial to radically reduce your risk of cancer. Your organs can convert the vitamin D in your bloodstream into calcitriol, which is the hormonal or activated version of vitamin D. Your organs then use it to repair damage, including that from cancer cells. Vitamin D also triggers apoptosis (cell death) in cancer cells.
According to Garland, in nearly all forms of breast cancer, vitamin D affects the structure of your epithelial cells. These cells are held together by a glue-like substance called E-cadherin, which provides structure to the cell. E-cadherin is made up of mostly vitamin D and calcium. If you don't have adequate vitamin D, that structure comes apart and those cells do what they are programmed to do in order to survive — they go forth and multiply.
If this cell proliferation gets out of control, you may end up with cancer. If you have breast cancer in progress, the addition of vitamin D can help stop cancer cells in their tracks by replenishing E-cadherin. Once cancer growth is slowed, your immune system can begin to get ahead of the cancer cells, because it doesn't have to deal with such an overabundance of them. It's just disposing of the leftovers.
Low Vitamin D Predicts Aggressive Prostate Cancer
In related news, researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine recently discovered that men diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer have vitamin D levels below 23 ng/ml. According to this study, vitamin D may actually be used as a biomarker to predict the aggressiveness of prostate cancer.
As noted in a University press release:15
"The relationship between vitamin D and prostate cancer may explain some disparities seen in prostate cancer, especially among African American men. Prior research...showed African American men who live in low sunlight locations are up to 1½ times more likely to have vitamin D deficiency than Caucasian men.
But because vitamin D is a biomarker for bone health and aggressiveness of other diseases, all men should check their levels, [lead investigator Dr. Adam] Murphy said. "All men should be replenishing their vitamin D to normal levels," Murphy said. "It's smart preventive health care."
Vitamin D Dramatically Improves Heart Function
Yet another recent study found that vitamin D has "nothing short of amazing" ability to improve heart function in those with chronic heart failure. The five-year long trial included 160 patients undergoing conventional treatment for chronic heart failure; half of them were given a vitamin D3 supplement, the other half received a placebo in addition to their standard of care. After one year, the vitamin D group experienced significant improvement in heart function compared to the placebo group. As reported by The Independent:16
"Dr Klaus Witte, who led the...research project, told The Independent the improvements seen in patients taking the vitamin were "nothing short of amazing," and called his team's findings a "significant breakthrough"...
Researchers made ultrasound scans of participants' hearts and measured the how much blood was being pumped with each heartbeat, to get a figure called ejection fraction. The ejection fraction of a healthy person is usually around 60 to 70 per cent, but it dropped to an average of 26 per cent among the patients enrolled in the study.
For those who took vitamin D3, the ejection fraction was improved from 26 to 34 per cent, while the rest experienced not change. For some patients, this discovery means regularly taking vitamin D3 could lessen the need for them to be fitted with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), which can correct dangerous heart rhythms."
The researchers note that even though they used a vitamin D3 supplement in this study, exposure to sunlight "would likely produce the same results," for the simple reason that it's all about achieving a higher vitamin D serum level. Comparing our modern lifestyle to that of ancient humans who spent far more time outdoors, the researchers link our current deficiency epidemic to chronic sun avoidance.
Current Advice to Avoid Sun Exposure Seriously Endangers Your Health
Indeed, dermatologists have severely compromised the public health by fighting an irrational and dangerous war against UV exposure, be it from the sun or UV light devices. Disease statistics reveal the sun-scare campaign has really been taken too far. At present, the U.S. Surgeon General,17,18 the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), and many other cancer organizations recommend complete and total sun avoidance in order to prevent skin cancer.
The AAD will not even acknowledge different recommendations based on skin type, even though it's widely recognized that darker skinned individuals need far more UV exposure in order to produce vitamin D in their skin. Adding insult to injury, the U.S. Preventative Task Force suggests vitamin D testing is unnecessary, and both the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the American Medical Association (AMA) recommend vitamin D serum levels and vitamin D intake levels that are far below ideal based on the evidence in the medical literature.
The IOM recommends taking just 600 IUs of vitamin D a day up to age 70. But as pointed out in a 2014 paper,19 the IOM underestimates the need by a factor of 10 due to a mathematical error. This error has never been addressed. Moreover, research20 suggests it would require 9,600 IU's of vitamin D per day to get a majority (97.5 percent) of the population to reach 40 ng/ml. Meanwhile, the AMA uses of 20ng/ml as sufficient, but as shown in the featured study, this level significantly increases your risk for cancer; 40 ng/ml is really the cutoff point for sufficiency in order to prevent a wide range of diseases.
Sun Avoidance Equals Smoking in Terms of Mortality Risk
Sun avoidance actually increases your risk of death very similar to that of smoking. That was the conclusion of a recent "competing risk" analysis by Swedish researchers, who found that while women with active sun exposure habits had a higher risk of melanoma compared to sun avoiders, they also had a lower risk of mortality from far more deadly diseases than melanoma, including cardiovascular disease.
According to the authors:21 "Nonsmokers who avoided sun exposure had a life expectancy similar to smokers in the highest sun exposure group, indicating that avoidance of sun exposure is a risk factor for death of a similar magnitude as smoking. Compared to the highest sun exposure group, life expectancy of avoiders of sun exposure was reduced by 0.6–2.1 years." When you look at the overall picture, it's clear to see that we are building the perfect storm for serious negative health outcomes due to vitamin D deficiency.