Vitamin D is important to good health. It is required for bone health and also plays an important role in the regulation of the immune system and calcium balance. Vitamin D deficiencies have been associated with low CD4 cell counts, an activated immune system and HIV disease progression.
Deficiencies in vitamin D could arise from low exposure to sunlight, ageing and poor diet.
HIV infection can also affect levels of vitamin D because the vitamin is metabolised by the body in the same way as many anti-HIV drugs, using the P450 pathway, and some earlier research had suggested that protease inhibitors can inhibit the body’s ability to metabolise vitamin D.
The sun’s rays trigger the body to produce vitamin D, and research suggests that the vitamin can reduce the risk of certain cancers, protect the heart, and even decrease your chances of catching a cold.
Further studies have also shown that patients with higher levels of vitamin D in their systems had thinner, less severe–and therefore less deadly–melanoma lesions than those who had low levels of vitamin D. Vitamin D also has been shown to lower the risk of developing breast cancer, colorectal cancer and even multiple sclerosis.
According to a report published in Science Daily up to 600,000 cases of breast cancer and colorectal cancer can be prevented annually simply by raising the Vitamin D levels from 25 nanograms/millilitre to 55 ng/mL. According to the researchers “This is high enough to provide the needed benefit but which have been found by other scientists to be low enough to avoid health risks”.
It has also been shown to decrease the risk of ovarian cancer and kidney cancer.
Studies in the laboratory have shown that vitamin D stops cancer cells from dividing and enhances cancer cell death. It is also known that vitamin D treatment boosts the activity of certain key genes and dampens it down in others.
HOW TO GET THE RECOMMENDED DOSE
Dr. Cedric F. Garland, a cancer prevention specialist at the Moores Cancer Center at the University of California, San Diego and co-author of the research report says “This could be best achieved with a combination of diet, supplements and short intervals — 10 or 15 minutes a day — in the sun,”.
However, the researchers recommend that people staying outdoors for more than 10-15 minutes use sun protecting apparel, sunscreen or hat.
The body produces its own vitamin D in the skin when it is exposed to sunlight. The vitamin is also found in certain foods, including eggs and fatty fish.
It has also been shown that higher levels of serum Vitamin D and living closer to the equator correlated with a lower incidence of breast cancer.
A WORD OF CAUTION
David J. Leffell, M.D., Yale Cancer Center member and Professor and Section Chief of Dermatologic Surgery at Yale School of Medicine says, “While ultraviolet B radiation from the sun is the primary source of vitamin D in our body, unprotected sun exposure is not a recommended way to reduce a person’s risk of developing breast cancer,”
UV radiation is an undisputed carcinogen and is responsible for most of the incidences of skin cancer recorded worldwide. Therefore women are urged to use sunblocking sunscreens with a good SPF factor, avoid prolonged exposure to intense sunlight, avoid the use of tanning salons and eat balanced diets.
The experts warn that people should not resort to excessive sun exposure or excessive consumption of vitamin D supplements in order to reduce the risk of breast cancer.
To ascertain the level of vitamin D in your body, you should run a laboratory test.
In case of deficiency, your doctor will prescribe supplements to boost your level.
Sun Bathing photo courtesy: m_bartosch