By Dr. Mercola
For many of you, the hint of spring is on the horizon and the opportunity to finally expose your skin to healthy doses of sunshine is very close. Remember that this is a far better choice than using oral vitamin D, as that is how your body was designed to get healthy vitamin D levels.
There are many reasons to be conscious of vitamin D, but today’s featured study will focus on breast health. A robust and rapidly growing body of research clearly shows that vitamin D is absolutely critical for good health and disease prevention, in part due to the fact that it influences about 10 percent of all your genes.
Just one example of an important gene that vitamin D up-regulates is your ability to fight infections and chronic inflammation. It also produces over 200 anti-microbial peptides, the most important of which is cathelicidin, a naturally occurring broad-spectrum antibiotic.
Recent studies demonstrate how optimizing your vitamin D levels may lower your LDL cholesterol levels and double your chances of surviving breast cancer. Researchers also claim to have discovered a causal link between vitamin D deficiency and autism spectrum disorder.
Vitamin D for Breast Cancer
Since the early 2000s, scientific investigations into the effects of vitamin D have ballooned. By the end of 2012, there were nearly 34,000 published studies on the effects of vitamin D, and there are well over 800 references in the medical literature showing vitamin D’s effectiveness against cancer alone.
According to Carole Baggerly, founder of GrassrootsHealth, as much as 90 percent of ordinary breast cancer may in fact be related to vitamin D deficiency.
Most recently, a meta-analysis of five studies published in the March 2014 issue of Anticancer Research1 found that patients diagnosed with breast cancer who had high vitamin D levels were twice as likely to survive compared to women with low levels.2, 3, 4
The analysis included more than 4,500 breast cancer patients over a nine-year period. The high serum group had an average vitamin D level of 30 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml). Women in the low serum group averaged 17 ng/ml, which is the average vitamin D level found in American breast cancer patients.5
The study was co-authored by Professor Cedric F. Garland—featured in the 2011 video above—along with other researchers at the San Diego School of Medicine. Funding for the research6 was in part provided by a Congressional allocation to the Penn State Cancer Institute of the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.
Vitamin D has a number of anticancer effects, including the promotion of cancer cell death, known as apoptosis, and the inhibition of angiogenesis (the growth of blood vessels that feed a tumor). According to Dr. Garland:
“As long as vitamin D receptors were present, tumor growth was prevented and kept from expanding its blood supply. 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.”
The researchers urge physicians to make vitamin D monitoring and optimization part of standard breast cancer care, and recommend that breast cancer patients should restore their vitamin D levels to a normal range of 30-80 ng/ml. According to the featured findings, you need at least 30 ng/ml of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D) to prevent cancer from spreading. That said, other research suggests you’d be better off with levels as high as 80 ng/ml.
How Much Vitamin D Is Required for Breast Cancer Prevention?
In 2011, Dr. Garland’s team found that a vitamin D level of 50 ng/ml is associated with a 50 percent lower risk of breast cancer.7, 8 (Similarly, a 2007 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine9 concluded that a vitamin D level of more than 33 ng/mL was associated with a 50 percent lower risk of colorectal cancer.)
In the featured video above, GrassrootsHealth founder Carole Baggerly interviews Dr. Garland about those 2011 findings.
At that time, they discovered that in order to achieve protective levels, you have to take far more supplemental vitamin D than previously thought. To reach a minimum protective level of 40 ng/ml of vitamin D, study participants had to take anywhere from 1,000 IUs to as much as 8,000 IUs of vitamin D3 per day—a far cry from the recommended daily allowance of 600 IUs of vitamin D for adults.
The supplemental dose ensuring that 97.5 percent of the study population achieved a serum 25(OH)D of at least 40 ng/mL was 9,600 IU/day. This study also concluded that intake of up to 40,000 IUs per day is unlikely to result in vitamin D toxicity.
It’s important to note, however, that it’s virtually impossible to make a general recommendation on how much vitamin D to take as the amount needed can vary significantly from one individual to another. In essence, you need to regularly monitor your levels, and take whatever amount of vitamin D3 you need to maintain a clinically relevant level.