Vitamin D "Enormous potential to beat cancer"
Written by Chris Woollams, CANCERactive. (With contributions by Dr. Damien Downing)
The last ten years has seen a huge body of research evidence showing that:
* Vitamin D is an important factor in cancer prevention.
* Vitamin D activates the immune system to work against rogue cells.
* Vitamin D has the ability to normalise and correct cancer cells.
So it boosts the immune system, prevents cancer, AND (according to several research studies) may even help beat it.
What more do you want?
Oh, it seems to play an important role in preventing all manner of illnesses too!
Vitamin D - are you getting enough?
* Research in 2012 in Cancer Causes and Control presented findings that former/never smokers were 44 per cent less likely to die from lung cancer if they had blood levels of vitamin D above 44nmo/litre. That applied to whether or not they had the cancer - it seems to prevent, and reduce deaths.
* In 2013, researchers from St Louis University showed that women with a BRCA1 mutation are more likely to develop an aggressive breast cancer but vitamin D can block this pathway. BRCA1 is not just behind breast cancer but other cancers too like some prostate cancer. Clinical trials are now planned.
* Another 2013 study, this time in the Journal of Cellular Biology showed that vitamin D blocks cathapsin L which makes cells grow uncontrollably in cancers.
The vitamin that works like a hormone
At CANCERactive we believe vitamin D is an important ingredient in any anti-cancer package. You will derive it from sunshine. A week lying on a beach will provide about 70,000 International Units, or IUs. 5,000 is the daily recommended level for people with cancer. Vitamin D may sound like a vitamin, but it acts more like a hormone with receptor sites on healthy cells and even more on cancer cells. Let´s look at three of the areas in which it acts:
1. Low vitamin D levels are linked with higher rates of cancer
The Boston Medical School has completed a great many research studies on vitamin D. Read the following statement from their Professor Hollick, "If women obtained adequate levels of vitamin D there would be 25 per cent less deaths from breast cancer.
Hollick is not alone in stressing the importance for women and breast cancer. St Georges Hospital in London calculated from their studies that women with low levels of vitamin D in their breast tissue have a 354 per cent greater risk of breast cancer. Translated into English this means they have 4 and a half times the breast cancer risk.
2. Immune booster
As you will see below, when it comes to fighting cancer, there seems little doubt about the virtues of this vitamin. Indeed many experts believe it is more like a hormone having receptor sites on both the cell and nuclear membranes - especially in cancer cells! According to research from the University of Copenhagen in 2010, when T-lymphocytes of the immune system come across a pathogen, the first thing they do is bind to a vitamin D molecule to ´activate´ themselves.
Recent studies covered in Cancer Watch suggest that the action of vitamin D is enhanced by vitamin K. Most adults are increasingly short of both D and K vitamins.
2012 research from the University of Carolina showed that children with low blood levels of vitamin D were more likely to become critically ill.
3. A Natural Cancer Cure?
Research published in the Journal of Cell Biology November 17, 2008; 183(4):697-710 has shown that vitamin D can adjust almost everything in the cancer cell, from its genetic messaging to its cytoskeleton. It can switch genes on and off, and it can reduce cell division, and it can calm the cancer cells so that they settle rather than spread. It seems vitamin D can actually return a cancer cell to a normal and healthy state. One pathway seems to control everything. That is a very important set of findings.
But if you are in any doubt about its potential, then the pharmaceutical companies are certainly not. For example, Memorial Sloan-Kettering were involved in a Phase III clinical trial where a synthetically made, concentrated form of vitamin D, called Asentar, significantly improved patient survival times. It has enormous potential said Dr Howard Scher, team leader. Unfortunately, politics took their toll on the trial - but that´s another story.
At CANCERactive we are very clear about vitamin D. There is more than enough research to be clear that vitamin D can help prevent cancer. And, from the latest studies, it is increasingly clear that every cancer patient should be having a daily half hour in the sunshine, or supplementing.
The question is, When it comes to vitamin D, are you getting enough?
The sunshine factor
So alarmed are we by other cancer charities and cancer bodies continually delivering the message that somehow sunshine is bad for you, that we launched the CANCERactive SAFESUN campaign to tell people the truth, without politics or vested interest, on how to make the most of sunshine for good health. (Click here to go to the CANCERactive SafeSun campaign page.)
But doesn´t sunshine cause skin cancer, and even melanoma?
Up front I would point out that there are several studies which show over 90 per cent of people with melanoma are deficient in vitamin D; and others which show that people who have regular exposure to sunshine develop LESS cancers! Furthermore, 2011 research showed half of melanoma is found in locations not exposed to the sun.
If you are thinking about supplementing with vitamin D you might like to look at Natural Selection´s Products of Choice
New Discoveries Demand A Greater Medical Awareness
Vitamin that cuts risk of cancer
Two studies had been presented in the USA and both showed that women with the highest levels of vitamin D were up to 50 per cent less likely to develop breast cancer. One study involved St. Georges Hospital Medical School in London and US researchers at Harvard and University of California; the other was carried out by Canadian researchers at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. Both were presented at a meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Washington. The doctors in the research concluded, Women with high exposure to the sun as teenagers may be protected against breast cancer in later life, and Boosting levels of vitamin D could be beneficial at a time when breast cells are developing. So much for the charities who have been warning us against sun exposure!
New research on Cancer Prevention is coming thick and fast:
Moores Cancer Centre at UCSD, San Diego concluded from a mega study of previous research that up to half the cases of breast cancer, and two thirds of the cases of colorectal cancer in the USA could have been prevented if people had had adequate blood levels of vitamin D.
- The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology reviewed two studies concluding that women with the highest blood levels had the lowest risk of breast cancer 15 to 30 minutes in the sun every day, or 2000 IUs of supplement were recommended. One study showed that the lower blood levels of vitamin D, the more dense (and dangerous) the breast tissue.
- The American Journal of Preventative medicine cross-related 5 studies over a 25 year period to conclude that taking a 2000 IU supplement of vitamin D3 daily would cut colorectal cancer by two thirds.
Science Daily (Sept 12 2006) covers two large scale research projects of 125,000 men and women, concluding that just 400IUs could reduce pancreatic cancer risk by 86 per cent.
A UK study covering 1.1 million men and women concluded that higher levels of blood vitamin D meant fewer deaths from cancer.
In the Journal of Clinical Oncology (Jan 20, 2005) men with the highest levels of vitamin D in their blood were half as likely to develop prostate cancer, as those with poor amounts. Research has shown that vitamin D inhibits prostate cancer cell growth. The provider of the vitamin in the research? Sunshine!
St Georges Hospital showed that the provision of 400IUs of vitamin D reduced pancreatic cancer by 34 per cent.
Sunshine reduces risk of Hodgkins by 40 per cent (Karolinska Institute).
But what if you already have cancer?
As we reported in the introduction research published in the Journal of Cell Biology November 17, 2008; 183(4):697-710 has shown that vitamin D can adjust almost everything in the cancer cell and return it to the normal, healthy state. Another study has shown that vitamin D can bind to mutated cancer cell receptor sites and cause cell death.
But theres more. For example:
Dr David Christiani said the survival differences were dramatic; the highest levels of vitamin D saw 72 per cent 5- year survivals compared with just 29 per cent for people with the lowest levels.
It looks like vitamin D is antiproliferative, as it inhibits proliferation of abnormal cells, added Christiani, and there was also evidence to suggest vitamin D inhibits the spread of tumours.
A study reported in September Cancer Watch 2008, led by Pamela Goodwin, MD, Professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto, research concluded that women with vitamin D deficiency at the time of breast cancer diagnosis were 94 per cent more likely to experience cancer spread and 73 per cent more likely to die over the next 10 years compared to women with adequate vitamin D levels.
- Breast cancer cells have been shown to have vitamin D receptor sites on their surface. Since women who have had breast cancer in one breast are clearly interested in preventing breast cancer in the other, supplementation of vitamin D seems an essential part of their anti-cancer programme.
And vitamin D supplementation is already being used as part of breast cancer treatment programmes in some US hospitals; it is being used in conjunction with radiotherapy in others, and it is also being used in a concentrated form in combination with Taxotere, for patients with prostate cancer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering New York.
If you cant get in the sun every day and you want to obtain vitamin D supplements, Natural Selection has an all natural, product of choice vitamin D3 which you can access by clicking this link.
What is becoming clear in all the recent scientific studies on vitamin D is that:
A deficiency plays a crucial role in increased risk of cancer and a number of other illnesses
Most people in our modern Western world are deficient. This is hardly surprising as they may live in colder, rainer climates with little winter sun; they may live out of the sun - watching TV indoors and working in offices; they may even refrain from enjoying sunshine because several major charities have ridiculously warned them against sunshine!
You can only obtain reasonable quantities of this vitamin through exposure to sunshine; a far lesser amount may be obtained through consuming oily fish. After that, other foods contribute very little. So the third option is supplementation; take your pick!
Lets go back to the beginning. In 1919 Sir Edward Mellanby was working indoors with dogs and horses during the winter and concluded that if they didnt get sunlight they developed bone disorders. He further concluded that the essential action of fats preventing these problems was due to a vitamin; and that cod liver oil was a strong preventative agent (see also icon articles on fish oils: click here).
The chemical structure of this vitamin, which he named factor X, was identified in the 1930s by Professor A Windaus. And thus vitamin D came about. Bone disorders had also been noted in humans - typically rickets in children.
The Vitamin That Acts Like A Hormone
As we shall see, it is now known that this substance is not technically a vitamin at all, but acts as a classic steroid hormone! The definition of a hormone is that it has DNA receptor sites on the nucleus inside cells, so able to control the "expression" of DNA to build molecules. Vitamin D is an essential part of the endocrine system as it controls the growth and differentiation of cells, the synthesis of key enzymes, several of the adrenal hormones and appears to have other direct DNA functions and even be involved in DNA repair. Recent research has shown completely new and crucial functions: Vitamin D is now known to also have a significant effect on nuclear receptor sites, as well as having receptor sites on cell membranes, and increased numbers on cancer cell membranes.
The Biochemistry of Vitamin D
Vitamin D is an umbrella term for a number of fat-soluble chemicals called calciferols. Vitamin D2, ergocalciferol, is produced when ergosterol in a yeast extract is converted by the ultraviolet component of sunlight. It is never naturally present in human blood, whereas vitamin D3, cholecalciferol, is produced by the same action of UV light on 7-dehydro-cholesterol, a precursor molecule of cholesterol present in our skin. If this does not happen, 7-DHC is converted into cholesterol instead, and then into the other steroid hormones.
Vitamin D3, once manufactured or ingested, is converted first into the 25-hydroxy-cholecalciferol - or 25(OH)D3 - form in the liver, then into 1,25-dihydroxy form - 1,25(OH)2 D3 - in the kidney. It was thought that only the final, 1,25(OH)2D3 form had any activity, but its now clear, firstly, that the 25(OH)D3 form does have effects on cell metabolism, and secondly that several other forms are produced in the skin in lesser quantities that may also have their uses. 70 years after it was first described, our knowledge of vitamin D is developing with increasing speed.
Only recently, tissues other than the kidney have also been found to turn calcidiol into calcitriol and now this is known to help regulate localised, cellular gene expression.
This may be autocrine (inside the cell) and/or paracrine (surrounding the cell). These autocrine and paracrine functions are significantly diminished in vitamin D deficient people. Several studies show many Americans - up to 90 per cent and especially black Americans - are vitamin D deficient, and this is being linked to, for example, a threefold higher level of prostate cancer in black US city dwellers, over their white counterparts.
All this is a long way beyond those first views of vitamin D, where deficiencies were only associated with rickets in the young and osteomalacia in adults.
Vitamin D And Bones
Vitamin D is essential for maintaining bone density and preventing osteoporosis as it helps the absorption of the bone-building materials calcium and phosphorus. In this action it is helped by magnesium.
Vitamin D and cortisol (the stress hormone) have recently been shown in the USA to be the crucial determinants in osteoporosis. Not oestrogen.
Cortisol can bind with receptor sites on bone cells normally used for natural progesterone (not natural oestrogen) and this weakens bone structure. Apart from taking HRT many doctors will advice more dairy. Dairy foods provide high levels of blood calcium (and a tiny amount of vitamin D). However this calcium surge actually depresses vitamin D levels and the bodys ability to absorb magnesium. Catch 22. Dairy gives you high blood calcium, but low bone calcium.
Much work has been done on the effect of vitamin D with bones. For example, in 1991 Tufts University, Boston showed that vitamin D was essential for improving bone density and supplementation was important in the winter months. This work was confirmed in Lyon, France (a thousand miles south of the UK!) in 1992 where a group taking 800 IUs of vitamin D and 1.2 gms of calcium per day had 43 per cent fewer hip fractures and 32 per cent fewer other, non-vertebral fractures. So for osteoporosis think vitamin D and a healthy intake of greens, rather than dairy and HRT supplements!
Sources of Vitamin D
Sunlight on our skin is now thought to be the main source of vitamin D. Night shift workers have lowered blood levels of vitamin D. Heavily tanned, or black people have real problems making vitamin D through the effect of sunlight in their skin. On the other hand, people with Celtic, or Type I skin (ginger hair/ freckles/ burn easily but dont tan), could be said to have skin designed to pick up on any stray bit of UV light in their northerly natural habitat. These days, though, they do tend to avoid the sun, for good reasons, but this can land them with a vitamin D shortage.
Whilst a little is found in dairy foods, the major food source is fish liver oils (omega-3 fish oil supplements dont contain much, though). Cod liver oil is unfortunately a poor source of vitamin D compared to halibut liver oil, while most of the top brands actually contain an added D supplement. Unfortunately, in order to get a useful dose of vitamin D from fish liver oil, you would simultaneously be getting an even bigger dose of vitamin A, which then can interfere with the beneficial effect of vitamin D on bone density - catch 22. (Really this is a biological, practical system of checks and balances. But its thrown out of balance by our near-universal vitamin D deficiency).
Kidney or liver disease (and alcohol) depress vitamin D levels; indeed anything that interferes with the digestion and absorption of oils and fats will - including any form of diarrhoea, diseases such as coeliac and Crohns, and pale bowel motions for whatever reason.
So also do antacids and acid-inhibitors like Zantac, cholesterol-lowering drugs (e.g. statins), mineral oils, anticonvulsants and toxic chemicals in the environment (e.g. smog). Cadmium blocks vitamin D production whilst pantothenic acid helps make it.
Recommended Daily Allowance
So are you getting enough?
Believe it or not, but the current RDA stems from the work of the eccentric Scottish Lord some 80 years ago, and the RDA was set at 5 to 10 micrograms (about 200 IUs) per day over 50 years ago.
However, Dawson-Hughes (Am J Clin Nut 1995; 61) has shown that at that level it has no effect on bone status at all.
Reinhold Veith PhD, University of Toronto, has concluded adults need 5 times this level (Am J Clin Nut May 1999), if they are to maintain healthy bones and, when it comes to cancer, the various research levels use at least 400 IUs daily as a preventative agent. .
But can high doses cause harm. The answer seems an unequivocal, NO!
On a sunny summer day, a young adult exposing a fair amount of skin for 15-30 minutes will manufacture about 20,000 IUs of vitamin D; this goes down with age to 10,000 IUs or less. This makes a bit of a mockery of the official toxicity safety limit for supplementation of 2000 IUs.
Veith proposed a level of 4,000 - 10,000 IUs per day for people with cancer and argued that toxicity doesnt start until about 40,000 IUs (Am J Clin Nut 1999; 69). And Harvard Medical researchers totally agree with him.
William B Grant PhD, a vitamin D expert in the USA, believes that 80-90% of Americans are actually deficient in vitamin D. Vitamin D is commercially available as vitamin D2, (ergocalciferol - from plant products, although plants contain very low levels of the vitamin), and vitamin D3, (cholecalciferol - from animal products). The best supplementation to take is vitamin D3. D3 provides vitamin D in its most usable form.
Certainly most anticancer experts suggest people with cancer ensure that they are getting at least 2500 IUs a day, and ideally 4,000 IUs..
In Cancer Watch November 2010 we covered research from the National Institute for Health in Finland who linked lower levels of blood vitamin D to dementia and Parkinsons disease.
In icon 2007, issue 2, we reported that researchers in Auckland New Zealand reported that people with higher levels of vitamin D in their blood had lower blood pressure, and vice versa.
In icon Issue Winter 2007/8, we reported that researchers at Kings College London reported that people with higher blood levels of vitamin D aged more slowly.
We are finding out new, and often amazing, things about vitamin D all the time - not so amazing, though, when you remember that it is actually a hormone; the hormone we all forgot about.
Research concludes it may:
More on Vitamin D and Cancer
- benefit fertility problems by helping the fertilised egg to implant in the womb.
- help the body assimilate vitamin A and have a synergistic effect with both A and E.
- be crucial to the growth, maturation and normal functioning of the immune system.
- be important in both the prevention and the treatment of auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and Type I (insulin-dependent) diabetes. In cases of vitamin D deficiency the body loses its ability to fully produce insulin.
- strengthen muscles as well as bones, improving athletic performance not only in the elderly but probably even in young athletes.
- have anti-inflammatory properties useful not only in diseases such as arthritis but probably even in arteriosclerosis and heart disease.
- help the body to produce natural antibiotic substances
- help to control obesity by, together with calcium, reducing overeating, and boosting fat metabolism. (Overweight is of course a risk factor for both cancer and heart disease).
- help prevent Parkinsons (Emory University, Archives of Neurology)
- it is even reported to help to slow down hair loss!
As we said above the new excitement is the discovery that cells contain large numbers of receptor sites for vitamin D.
Vitamin D plays multiple roles in the regulation of animals metabolism; Boston University School of Medicine (Rahul Ray) showed that it has a regulatory effect on plasma membranes affecting all sorts of carried hormones and chemicals, and also on gene transcription. They have conducted much work on these vitamin D Nuclear Receptors (VDRs). Vitamin D is bound in plasma and on nuclear sites and is very much part of the endocrine system.
Epidemology studies have argued that the levels of sunlight and cancer are inversely proportional. Studzinski and Moore (Cancer Research 1995; 55) talked about a belt through America where there was less sunshine and 2-3 times higher rates of cancer.
But where cancer researchers were really turned on was in the finding that vitamin D can regulate cell differentiation and proliferation and even DNA repair mechanisms.
For example, laboratory tests have shown that vitamin D inhibits the growth of the new blood vessels (angiogenesis) needed by tumours in order to satisfy their high metabolism (Shokravi et al Inv Cph 1995; 36).
Furthermore cancer cells are undifferentiated - they act like foetal cells, being young and dividing rapidly and, as yet, not differentiated into lung cells, or liver cells or breast cells. Vitamin D can switch these undifferentiated cells over to being normal. And right now drugs companies are trying to patent drugs to do this! Why not just give people vitamin D supplements?!
Professor Michael Hollick, an endocrinologist from The Boston School of Medicine has argued that 25 per cent of the women who die of breast cancer would not have even had a problem if they had maintained adequate levels of vitamin D throughout their lives.
Black people, who cannot photosynthesise vitamin D under their pigmented skins, especially in our sunless European cities in winter, are known to develop more prostate cancers than caucasians and Gross (J Urol 1998) highlighted the use of vitamin D in the treatment of recurrent prostate cancer.
Vitamin D is claimed to greatly enhance radiotherapy effectiveness on breast cancer treatment (Mercola June 2003) - it is being used by the Royal Marsden for this very reason - and vitamin D is known to inhibit the growth of pre-malignant cells in the lining of the colon and reduces cancer tumours (Somer). In May 2003 at the Howard Hughes Medical School they showed that vitamin D detoxifies a carcinogenic bile acid Lithocholic acid, and confirmed that vitamin D can reduce polyps in the colon which often ultimately turn into cancer tumours.
Hollick is clear that vitamin D reduces the risk of breast, colon and ovarian cancers, and named 13 others (from bladder to kidney to stomach) that he thought vitamin D could affect.
It seems, apart from these 16 cancers, scientists are discovering new health benefits almost daily for vitamin D with such illnesses as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, auto-immune disease and even some mental illness and so-called SAD syndrome.
But What Is The Situation With Skin Cancer?
icons view is that although excess and burning sunshine can give rise to skin cancer, the charities that scare people against sunshine are doing the public a huge and dangerous dis-service.
Moreover there is actually research that endorses this view: The University of New Mexico (Journal of Nat Cancer Institute 2005, 97) has shown that its research findings conclude people with high exposure to the sun are less likely to die from melanomas. They too conclude vitamin D might be the protecting factor.
In our opinion the increasing levels of skin cancer and melanoma are largely due to increasing levels of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the body and particularly on the skin, together with low levels of protective, antioxidant nutrients such as vitamins C, E, and omega-3 oils and minerals. One research study showed that with identical women, the one on the oestrogenic contraceptive pill had twice the risk of developing melanoma. Some sun screens have had chemical ingredients banned in Scandanavia as they mimic the action of oestrogen on the skin. And melanoma is driven by oestrogen, not simply excess sun light. New research in America is causing the FDA to rethink its stance on the ingredient retinyl palmitate, which seems capable of sensitising the skin and producing a greater skin cancer risk!
Conversely very recent evidence indicates that high blood levels of vitamin D actually help to prevent burning by speeding up tanning of the skin!
So whats a girl (or a boy) to Do?
It is quite clear that every reader who is unable to achieve regular, gentle sun exposure would be well advised to supplement with a vitamin D3 supplement, at a dose of at least 400 IUs for prevention and 2,500 IUs to 4,000 IUs if they already have cancer. There are no reported contraindications with cancer drugs or cancer treatments in fact, exactly the opposite seems true.
Anybody with cancer, or at high risk of developing it, will do themselves no harm with a daily dose of up to 10,000 IUs, and may very well help themselves greatly. Some hospitals have been using vitamin D supplementation with breast cancer patients, and/or during radiotherapy, and/or as a part of a general programme of cancer therapy.
Worryingly, of course, we have had various EU directives which seem based on out of date research and/or subjectivity not science, and these seem bent on cutting RDAs for vitamins and supplements. In the case of vitamin D, RDA levels are much lower than all recent research would indicate to be essential. Recent research on vitamin D merely highlights the conflict that at the same time the bureaucrats are clamping down, the scientists are just discovering how these essential ingredients really work.
So the question stands: Vitamin D, are you getting enough?
If you cannot get adequate levels of daily sunshine nor eat large amounts of oily fish, then you might think seriously about Vitamin D supplemention as part of your disease- prevention regime. And if you want to supplement make sure it is the best, naturally-sourced supplement you can find. If you are already thinking of supplementing, why not go to Natural Selection ´Products of Choice´, who usually have done the hard work of searching for you?
At last, the definitive, research-based book on how to build a diet to help beat cancer. Click here to read about it.
Dr Damien Downing
President, British Society for Ecological Medicine - http://www.ecomed.org.uk/.
Medical Director, Alliance for Natural Health - http://www.anhcampaign.org/.
Practises in London as part of the New Medicine Group - http://newmedicinegroup.com/.
Please be clear: At CANCERactive we do not consider the above compound to be a cure for cancer, despite what the research says or experts doing the research may claim. The above, is an article on the compound from published research and expert opinion in the public domain. At CANCERactive we do not believe that any single compound (drug, vitamin, whatever) is a cure for cancer. We believe that people can significantly increase their personal odds of survival by building an Integrated Programme of treatments. Equally, cancer prevention is best practiced through a width of measures.