Laura Bond

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Vitamin D

Rottenest island

Growing up in Perth, the one thing guaranteed to make Mum see red was getting burnt.

‘You’ll get skin cancer’ she would fume, as we walked in the door guilt-stricken and beetroot-coloured, after spending the day at Rottnest.

But mostly, we acquiesced to her requests to cover up. For a time, my little sister and I even agreed to wear something resembling a rower’s zoot suit or burkini on the beach. The knee-to-neck bathers came courtesy of a crafty family friend and were the ultimate exercise in pre-teen mortification.

Mum of course wasn’t the only one to take the slip, slop, slap mantra seriously. At my primary school, cloth hats (complete with neck flaps) were part of the school uniform and anyone caught in the playground without theirs faced a demerit point; it was also routine to see kids in rash vests on the beach and sun cream was something you just didn’t leave the house without… All of this, in the name of avoiding skin cancer. But now it seems, that advice was way overblown.

‘Most people believe that exposure to sunlight increases their risk of cancer,’ writes integrative oncologist Dr. Thomas Lodi in his booklet How to Prevent Cancer. ‘This is simply not true! In fact, insufficient sun exposure is an important risk factor in the development of many cancers in both Western Europe and North America according to a study published in March of 2002 in the journal, Cancer.’

Staying out of the sun diminishes our levels of vitamin D and we now know that low levels of this essential vitamin are linked to everything from multiple sclerosis and diabetes to obesity AND cancer.

There are now over 800 fully referenced studies demonstrating vitamin D’s effectiveness for cancer prevention (thank you Dr. Mercola) and adequate levels of the sunshine vitamin have been shown to reduce metastasis; increase apoptosis (programmed cell death); and double the survival rates of colorectal cancer patients.

In one study, women with advanced breast cancer, that had spread to their bones, were less likely to die of the disease when they had high amounts of active vitamin D in their blood, according to Scientists at Manchester University .

‘Vitamin D actually causes cancer cells to turn back into the cells they were originally, whether it is breast, colon, pancreas or whichever organ may be affected,’ explains Dr. Lodi.

‘This is why we see the prevalence of cancer so low for populations of people who live on, or near the equator and a steady increase in that prevalence the further north or south one goes.’

You might assume those working outdoors would need to be extra vigilant about sun protection, but more recent research suggests it’s actually office workers who need to worry: ‘When you look at scientific studies you find that skin cancer occurs mostly in people who are never exposed to the sun,’ says Andreas Moritz author of Cancer is Not a Disease – It’s A Survival Mechanism.

‘They are often people who get up in the morning at 7 am to go to the office; work indoors under artificial lighting and who come home at 7pm: they never see the sun.’

Numerous studies show that those who spend a lot of time outdoors are in fact less likely to develop melanoma than people who work indoors. Moreover those who get burnt because of their infrequent exposure to the sun run a far higher risk of melanoma.

‘ Essentially, this suggests the very opposite of the advice we’re given,’ writes Bryan Hubbard in a special report in the July issue of  What Doctors Don’t Tell You. ‘Regular exposure to the sun has a protective affect against skin cancer – and indeed, against a multitude of other cancers, including those of the breast, colon and prostate – because of the protective effect of high vitamin D levels…’

The fact that skin cancers often occur in places the sun doesn’t see seems to support this theory: Bob Marley, who died of malignant melanoma under his toe-nail, is a case in point.

A 2004 study by the UK medical journal the Lancet found that melanomas occur most commonly on the backs of men and upper legs of women, areas that are not usually exposed to the sun. Well, at least not if you live in the UK.

Slip, Slop, Slap

Since the early 1980s the SunSmart campaign in Australia – which spread the message to cover up and wear sunscreen – claims to have reduced the incidence of sunburn by 50% and to have slowed the rise in skin cancer deaths. But according to Bryan Hubbard this is a statement not supported by the evidence. ‘Even the theory that direct sunlight is the major cause of skin cancer is incorrect, as it may account for just 10 percent of cases,’ writes Hubbard.

Obviously the sun in Australia is a different animal to the sun in the UK. ‘…Children in Queensland are exposed to twice as much sunshine as English children,’ acknowledge Hubbard. And yet skin cancer remains the most common cancer in the UK and the number of melanoma cases has doubled over the last twenty years despite the eternal grey skies.

So How Much Sun is Enough?

‘Over exposure to sun is, of course, to be avoided,’ writes Dr. Lodi. ‘Enjoy one half hour of full exposure to intense natural sunlight (away from the hours of 11–4) on a near-daily basis with no sunscreen (important for vibrational nutrition and essential for mental health, bone density, vitamin D production, etc.).’

When Mum was diagnosed with cancer, her blood levels of vitamin D were extremely low. She immediately ditched the SPF (more on that soon) and started spending more time in the garden and on the beach. She also started taking 10,000 iu in spray form of D3, following the advice of Dr. Patrick Kingsley.

The Daily Dose

The recently revised US recommended dietary allowances (RDA) for vitamin D are 600 IU (15μg) daily for age 1–70. According to Dr. Mercola: ‘This dose was recommended to prevent rickets, which works well, but does nothing to give the far more important protection from cancer, heart disease and infections.’

Mercola recommends adults take 5000 iu every day, although he cautions that vitamin D requirements are ‘highly individual’ and encourages people to get their blood levels tested.

According to the Vitamin D council, a non-profit organization: ‘…serum vitamin D levels should be a minimum of 50 ng/mL (125 nmol/L), with optimal levels falling between 50-80 ng/mL (125-200 nmol/L). These values apply to both children and adults.’

The Vitamin D Council was set up by Dr John Cannell, as a way of educating the public about the ‘vitamin D deficiency pandemic.’ The statistics bear out his claims.

Three quarters of US teens and adults are deficient in vitamin D according to a recent piece in the Scientific American and the average level for children in the UK in the winter months is just 52 nmol/L, well below healthy levels.

So what’s the answer?

While many turn to supplements, Andreas Moritz offers a word of caution: ‘ Vitamin D can be very toxic to the liver… if you have too much,’ he says. The good news is, you can’t overdose on sunshine: ‘If you’re in the sun for eight or ten hours – the UVA rays will break down any excess vitamin D.’

Nothing beats the real thing according to many experts. In an interview with Dr. Mercola, Dr. Stephanie Seneff, a senior scientist at MIT, explains why natural sun exposure is so important:

‘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.’

But if you’re like me and live in the UK, or you’re like Mum and have had cancer, or if you work a twelve hour day in the office, you might still want to consider a supplement.

In the book The Golden Ratio Lifestyle Diet Dr Robert Friedman and Mathew Cross tackle the tricky Vitamin D question:

‘How do you get your vitamin D3 levels into therapeutic range without toxicity becoming a problem?… By utilizing a combination of sun, vitamin D3 rich foods and vitamin D3 supplements in the proper amounts.’

After a recent blood test showed my D levels were 110 nmol/L – below optimum levels – I started taking 3,000 iu of D3 a day, in a spray form. I also make sure I go for a daily walk in the park, which ensures I get my daily dog perve along with the D.

Can you get vitamin D from food?

Shiitake mushrooms, mackerel and eggs are a few foods that contain vitamin D, but it’s worth noting that one egg will only provide 10% of your daily needs.

Bottom line? It seems there’s really no substitute for the sun lounger. And with the weather pushing 30 degrees in England this weekend, that’s exactly where I’ll be.

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9 Responses to Vitamin D

  1. Steph says:

    Four women at my work and two of my friends have recently been diagnosed with Vitamin D deficiency. Which either means that it’s at very high levels in the population or doctors weren’t looking for it before. Either way, it seems ridiculous that people can live in Perth and have a Vitamin D deficiency. There must be a happy medium between guarding against skin cancer and getting enough sun to stay healthy! Thanks for this informative piece Laura. I have been wondering about the large numbers of people finding out they have D deficiencies.

  2. anthea krost says:

    Hooray Laura, well done. You just reminded me to order my Vit D. I hate it when I say, “I must do this, I must do that”, and now with your jolt, I will. Take care darlin. From Downunder

  3. donnella buxton says:

    My Dear Neighbour past away last week of Pancreatic Cancer, four weeks before this I ask her if the doctors had checked for low Vit D and Glutathione and any of her Vitamin Levels and She just looked at me as if there was nothing wrong with any of them. I find it quite amazing that she would let them inject her with Chemo and would not even ask about her Vitamin Levels or that the Doctor don’t even check them. The only thing about her illness is that it lead me to your wonderful website were I found lots of hope for her (LDN & ALA by Dr Burt Berkson). But her ears were closed.
    I have also be asking my friends and family about their Vit D levels are and I too are amazed by the Low levels out there. Sunny Perth. Thanks again

  4. Thanks for this Laura. I’ve never been a slip slop slapper – perhaps bad luck for my dried-out spotted skin but not so bad for what’s inside. For years I’ve suggested to anyone who’ll listen that you should never put anything on your skin that you wouldn’t eat – and I don’t think sunscreen would go on many menus. Even so, I have recently been diagnosed with low Vit D and am on a prescription dose to boost my levels. What is it about Perth? It is complicated because low Vitamin D is not just related to inadequate doses of sunshine. I have recently discovered through a great book I am reading called The Sleep Diet by Dr Carmel Harrington that sunlight, melatonin production, sleep and weight are interconnected and have a major effects on our health.

  5. Jess Widnall says:

    Hi Laura, I feel I ought to point out some changes to Vit D info which I also, gain from Dr Mercola’s vast knowledge. It is only the UVB rays that allow the skin to absorb Vit D and it is the UVA rays that not only damage the skin and increase the risk of cancer but too much UVA exposure can also destroy the Vit D you’re trying so hard to get. So, in actual fact, you are wanting to be out in the sun between 10 and 2 when the angle of the sun allows the UVB rays to penetrate the atmosphere. The rest of the time you should cover up or use a safe sunscreen. I live in Perth and every sunny day, I am out in the middle of the day for just 10 minutes. I don’t get burnt but I am getting the full amount of Vit D I need. Please read Dr Mercola’s page here for much more detailed info (http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2008/12/16/my-one-hour-vitamin-d-lecture-to-clear-up-all-your-confusion-on-this-vital-nutrient.aspx)
    Also there is an iPhone app that is great called D Minder. It pinpoints your place in the globe and after your set up your profile (skin tone, blood levels, weight, height etc) it tells you when the sun is at the right angle to be able to give you adequate Vit D. It also has a 5 min intro video that explains it all. Brilliant app.
    Thanks for all your great info here.

  6. Pingback: ‘Science helped me say no to chemo’ | Mum's Not Having Chemo

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