Skin cancer is the bane of people who love to be out in the sunshine, and for the last few years an emphasis has been placed on wearing sunscreen and be safe outdoors. Good news is out there, however, for sunbathers, and it comes in the form of an increased breast cancer survival rate thanks to vitamin D.
According to new research published in the journal Anticancer Research, high levels of vitamin D in the body can double a breast cancer patient’s chances of survival.
Prof. Cedric F. Garland of the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, indicated to Medical News Today, past studies revealed an association between low vitamin D levels and an increased risk of premenopausal breast cancer, so he and his team decided to see what increasing vitamin D levels did for breast cancer. To find the answer, the group evaluated the link between 25-hydroxyvitamin D –a metabolite that the body produces from vitamin D ingestion– and breast cancer survival rates.
At the end of the study, participants with high levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in their blood had approximately a 50 percent lower fatality rate, compared with women who had low levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D.
“As long as vitamin D receptors are present, tumor growth is prevented and kept from expanding its blood supply,” explained Garland, indicating vitamin D plays a role in halting aggressive cell division. “Vitamin D receptors are not lost until a tumor is very advanced. This is the reason for better survival in patients whose vitamin D blood levels are high.”
While vitamin D can be obtained through dietary sources such as oily fish and eggs, the body’s primary source is from the sun. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) indicate the body makes vitamin D when it is exposed directly to sunlight, and even on cloudy days being outside will help produce this necessary substance. Because of the emphasis being put on limited sun exposure due to skin cancer risk; however, many people may be deficient in vitamin D and not know it.
“Because vitamin D can come from sun, food, and supplements, the best measure of one’s vitamin D status is blood levels of a form known as 25-hydroxyvitamin D. Levels are described in either nanomoles per liter (nmol/L) or nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL), where 1 nmol/L = 0.4 ng/mL,” states the NIH. “In general, levels below 30 nmol/L (12 ng/mL) are too low for bone or overall health, and levels above 125 nmol/L (50 ng/mL) are probably too high. Levels of 50 nmol/L or above (20 ng/mL or above) are sufficient for most people.”
Individuals who do not get enough vitamin D may experience osteomalacia, a condition causing bone pain and muscle weakness. In children, vitamin D deficiency causes rickets, a softening and bending of bone in the body.
Vitamin D supplementation a wise decision?
Despite the current findings and the obvious need for vitamin D in the body, not all experts are convinced supplementation is a wise decision. Earlier studies have suggested vitamin D supplements are unlikely to provide any benefit to reduce the incidence of heart attack, heart disease, stroke, bone fractures, or cancer.
As with most vitamin and mineral supplements, always consult with a doctor before including in a diet program. And while it is not advisable to spend excessive time out in the sun, the Skin Cancer Foundation indicates there is no evidence suggesting sunscreen prevents proper vitamin D production.