One of the longest, hardest-fought battles this country has ever faced has been the one against cancer. President Nixon declared the war on cancer 35 years ago, yet, after billions of dollars, the disease remains this elusive and all-too-common enemy. Research is now shedding light (pun intended) on a tool that could help prevent a host of different cancer types, vitamin D.
Research is exploding with new material nearly each month, as the benefits of vitamin D seem endless. It can benefit multiple sclerosis, heart disease, the immune system and bone health. Its greatest benefits may come in the form of cancer treatment and prevention. It is hard to keep track of how many different types can be prevented by vitamin D, but at this point, it's thought to aid in the prevention of cancer of the prostate, breast, ovaries, cervix, pancreas, lungs, colon, bladder, esophagus and brain as well as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma and melanoma [Source: Grant].
For some cancers the effect is pronounced. Colon cancer can be decreased up to 50 percent by having an adequate blood level of the vitamin or supplementing with just 1,000 IU daily of vitamin D [Source: Grant]. Vitamin D may have significant influence in the length of survival in prostate cancer [Source: Tretli]. It might help the prostate both in the prevention of cancer and in helping slow the spread of disease [Source: Grant]. Treatments for prostate cancer involving vitamin D’s action in the body are currently underway [Source: Schwartz]. Low vitamin D levels can also represent a risk factor for breast cancer [Source: Reinhold, Friedrich]. Lung cancer is another very common and very deadly form of cancer. It too has better outcomes with higher vitamin D levels [Source: Porojnicu]. This nutrient is giving us a safe and simple tool to help prevent the most common forms of cancer and help those who have already been affected by the disease.
Vitamin D might finally help provide a tool for cancers often very hard to detect. Ovarian and pancreatic cancer can carry lower rates of survival because they are often not detected until the cancer has grown significantly. This is especially true for pancreatic cancer. Vitamin D offers a tool to help prevent these dangerous cancers [Source: Garland, Giovannucci, Schwartz]. Sun exposure seems to be protective against the formation of these cancers. Prevention is truly the best treatment for any cancer. Interestingly, vitamin D seems to protect against melanoma [Source: Grant, Schwartz]. This may go against common belief, since vitamin D comes from the sun and we have often blamed the sun for this cancer. For melanoma types of skin cancer, success depends on early detection and can also be improved with higher vitamin D levels. It is interesting to note that even the time of year can play a role in how successful treatment is. Evidence shows that cancers detected in the summer or fall, when vitamin D levels are highest, can have better outcomes than those diagnosed in the winter or early spring when the levels are much lower [Source: Schwartz].
Cancer has had a tremendous impact, both emotionally and financially, on our health care system. The state of our current economy is only going to further stymie an already broken system. Vitamin D offers a simple and safe way to help prevent cancer so that we can help save lives and utilize billions of dollars for prevention of other diseases and nutritional deficiencies. Estimates have suggested that just 1,000 IU of vitamin D could have significant reductions in cancer rates for men (seven percent) and women (nine percent). The cost of this therapy approximates $1 billion with health care savings of up to $25 billion. This type of savings and improvement in health could bring a dramatic jumpstart to the rest of the struggling industries who will soon not be able to afford adequate health care.
Vitamin D can be obtained free from the sun, particularly in the months between April and September. Areas that typically experience the four seasons will not get sun during the late fall, winter or very early spring months. Even then, 1,000 units of vitamin D only cost a few dollars a month. Vitamin D levels can be checked through a 25-OH vitamin D test (25-hydroxy vitamin D) so that the need for vitamin D can be confirmed. Some patients may need even higher doses. Vitamin D levels can be low even in the summer due to occupations, lifestyles or medications that prohibit individuals from being out in the sun. One does not need to burn the skin to get vitamin D from the sun. Lighter complexions need 10-20 minutes of sun exposure; darker complexions need 20-30 minutes. Vitamin D levels will improve best during peak sun hours. Keep areas that have been treated for skin cancer protected and obtain sun exposure on other parts of the body.
The impact that vitamin D could have on cancer prevention and treatment, and health care in general, could be enormous. The information on vitamin D could not come at a better time. What is a better stimulus plan than to make people healthier, prevent cancer, save billions and billions on treatment and take the financial burden off of patients and struggling businesses?