Saturday, November 9, 2013

Vitamin D May Help Stop Cancer

     Last week I went to the doctor for my annual physical. I had never been to this doctor before. My old doctor, I was told, was out of the office on an extended medical leave. That in itself was a little upsetting, since the doctor is supposed to cure you, not get sick himself.

     I asked several people what was wrong, but everyone claimed they didn't know. I don't count my doctor as a friend. But he's the same age as I am, I've been going to him for about 15 years, and he asks me about my kids and tells me about his vacations, and I feel I know him well enough to at least extend my regards. Would it be appropriate to send him a get well card in care of the medical center?

     Anyway, my new doctor seemed okay, and I liked him right away because he told me I was healthy and my EKG looked good. But I do have a history of cancer in my family. My mother developed breast cancer in her late 50s and finally succumbed to the disease at age 89. My dad got cancer when he was 90, and died at age 91. I have a sister who had breast cancer, although it was years ago and she seems to be doing fine now.

     The doctor asked about my smoking history, and my drinking, and my exercise and diet. Then he said he wanted to do a test for vitamin D in my blood.

     He told me there have been studies suggesting that vitamin D has a preventive effect in the development of cancer. He was careful to say that the research was preliminary and inconclusive. But he advised me to drink skim milk fortified with vitamin D, as well as orange juice with calcium and vitamin D. And I should try to get outside to the sun for half hour a day, especially in the winter. Then, he told me, if I tested low for vitamin D, he might prescribe a supplement for me.

     I hadn't heard about any anti-cancer effects of vitamin D, so after I got home from my appointment I did a little research.

     The American Cancer Society has a report on the topic, pointing out that very few foods naturally contain Vitamin D, so some people may not get enough from their everyday diet. There's vitamin D in some fish like salmon, tuna and sardines, as well as in beef liver and cod liver oil. Milk and orange juice are often fortified with calcium and vitamin D. And you make your own vitamin D from sunlight.

     According to the National Cancer Institute, vitamin D's potential anti-cancer qualities were first identified when doctors noticed that groups of people from southern latitudes were showing lower rates of cancer than people in more northern climes. And so researchers started doing some tests. In mice, vitamin D exhibited several activities that might prevent or slow the development of cancer, including decreasing cancer cell growth and reducing blood vessel formation in tumors.

     A survey in the 1990s of more than 3,000 humans, mostly men, showed that those with the highest vitamin D intake were less likely to have advanced cancer than those with low intake. A study published in 2007 of 1,179 women over age 55 showed that those who took calcium and vitamin D, or who otherwise had high levels of vitamin D, had significantly less risk for all types of cancer combined.

     Some other studies failed to produce these results, and one even associated an increased risk of pancreatic cancer with high levels of vitamin D, especially among smokers. But a researcher who collected and analyzed a series of studies seemed to confirm the protective effects of vitamin D, in particular for colon and rectal cancer.

     So, like my doctor said, the studies are suggestive, but not conclusive. The American Cancer Society does say that people over age 50 whose skin does not make as much vitamin D, and people who live in northern areas with limited sun exposure, and adults with darker skin, may be at risk of vitamin D deficiency. These people might consider a supplement -- although all the experts say it's better if you can get your vitamin D in foods rather than pills.

     So for most of us, I guess we should just eat some fish, drink our milk, and quaff some orange juice fortified with calcium and vitamin D. As for me, I actually like salmon and tuna, but I'm not going to order up sardines any time soon. And I drink my share of milk -- I can deal with 1%, but cannot stomach skim milk, so I hope that little bit of fat isn't going to pose other problems that I'm trying to stave off by drinking milk in the first place.

     And, I'm sorry to say, apparently the milk products in ice cream are not fortified with vitamin D, so going out for ice cream doesn't count.


DJan said...

I was tested for Vitamin D a few years back when I got a new young doctor. I was deficient, so I started taking 2,000 units/day. I am now no longer deficient, but surprisingly, even with that large amount, I am at the low end of normal. I now take it year round.

Anonymous said...

My dad died of colon cancer at the age of 87. He was a gardener and loved the outdoors, so he got a lot of natural vitamin D from the sun. I think the reason why he contracted colon cancer was his eating hot dogs and sausages every day for lunch. That food has been linked to cancer.

Anonymous said...

Don't know what to say. My doc is our age and been our primary care physician since 1980. Hope he stays healthy as he is the LAST GP in his area still taking Medicare patients.

Vitamin D…I drink milk several times a day. Watch sun exposure, although I am getting some most days walking the dogs. Dianne

Anonymous said...

Um, Santos Jenny looks like a scam. I'd delete it.

Just sayin'


Tom Sightings said...

Thanks, C ... done. Gigi, my dad got lung cancer at age 90, perhaps in part b/c he did smoke when he was younger. But to be philosophical about it, by the time you reach that age something's going to get you, whether it's smoking or hot dogs or something else. That's the way of the world.

Amy Blitchok said...

While vitamin D may help prevent cancer in the long run, it also has more immediate benefits. It is a great supplement if you are suffering from depression or moodiness.

Also, it is probably best to stay away from any highly processed foods, especially meats that are packed with cancer causing nitrates. Lunch meat makes for a quick and easy meal, but it isn't the best thing for your body.

Olga said...

I take calcium with Vitamin D supplement daily--this is for bone strength. The Vit. D helps the calcium absorption. I would not complain about your longevity genes. Like you said, we all have to go some time from something.

Stephen Hayes said...

Thanks for ruining a lifetime of convincing myself that ice cream was health food. Actually, I do take Vitamin D every day. So far so good.

rosaria williams said...

We have all been prescribed vitamin D supplements. How did our ancestors survive without this knowledge?

Arkansas Patti said...

Some think we have become deficient due to our obsession with sun screen. Seems we are darned either way.
I get most of my D for my bones from skim milk and the sun gardening. Winter requires walking to get any of the sunshine variety. Good to know the cancer correlation.

June said...

" going out for ice cream doesn't count."

My last three dogs have died of cancer, and I did some research on canine cancer. The conclusion in most of what I read is that dogs don't die of anything now because we take such good care of them. When a dog gets to be sixteen or seventeen . . . probably equal to a human's 70s or 80s, or even 90s . . . their cells rejuvenative powers are just worn out, and cancer is the result.
I figure people are about the same way. Rarely, in this part of the world, do people die of infections from bad teeth or from influenza.
My mother, upon receiving her diagnosis of advanced bladder cancer, said, "Well. Everybody's gotta die from something.

Douglas said...

Best source of vitamin D is sunshine. Most likely cause of skin cancer is... sunshine. Rather contradictory, isn't it?

Somebody sent me a link to a site where you could answer 13 (I think it was 13) questions which predicted your longevity. I have no idea how accurate it is. But I have about 19 years left in me. I hope it isn't a self-fulfilling prophecy. But I have my last words all figured out. I am going to look up at my doctor and say, "See you soon... very soon."

Riverwatch said...

The best way to know where your vitamin D level is? Have your doc order a vitamin D level on you.
Tests are showing 80% of people are deficient. My level was so low it took one year of high dose vitamin D to get my level up to normal. Yes, I got sunshine as I live on the desert. Yes, I drank milk. Yes I took a multivitamin a day. It just wasn't enough.
I now take 5000 units of Vit D a day. Good luck keeping up with your nutritional needs.