Vitamin D remains underused and not fully understood by many people. This column will review recent news on vitamin D.
Osteoporosis remains a multi-billion dollar health problem in this country. For 15 years calcium and a small dose of vitamin D was recommended, but studies have shown this is insufficient. Although multiple factors are involved in osteoporosis, it is now known that levels of Vitamin D over 32 ng (and preferably at least 47 ng.) will prevent a high percentage of osteoporosis. At the same time, amounts of 400 units of vitamin D a day have been shown repeatedly to have practically no benefit. 800 units a day is only slightly better. But just what do these studies mean to you? Obtaining several thousand vitamin D levels from people in the last 7 years have shown to me the research studies are true. About 400 levels I obtained were people who had osteoporosis or osteopenia on a DEXA scan. Of these 400, only 3 people have had levels less than 32 ng. (less than 1%). So want to prevent osteoporosis? (who doesn’t?). Get your doctor to order a 25-hydroxyvitamin D level (it’s still not done routinely), and get your level up to 47 ng. With this level, most of the calcium you eat in your diet will now be absorbed (80% instead of 15%). The few populations that do have levels this high (and don’t even take calcium supplements) have an extremely low level of osteoporosis. How important is this? How many people do you know over 70 that have broken a hip? Actually it’s not usually a case of falling and breaking a hip. It’s been shown that often the hip breaks spontaneously from osteoporosis and the person falls, and everything happens so quickly the person doesn’t realize the pain came a split second before the fall.
Cedrick and Frank Garland are two scientists/doctors who went to a lecture in the 1980’s as students where they learned that the amount of sunlight and distance from the equator is strongly related to the incidence of a number of cancers. They devoted several years to research the subject, and they changed history. They published their data in the 1990’s, and the reason you have heard so much about vitamin D in the newspapers the past 7 years is their study because a great deal of further research was stimulated by their study. Breast, prostate, and colon cancer have been most studied and the proof is substantial that the incidence of these cancers can be greatly decreased with higher vitamin D levels. A critical “landmark” study (called a meta-analysis) combined the only 11 studies of their kind and was published in the September 2011 issue of Anticancer Research. It was determined that if a woman maintains a vitamin D level of 47 ng. her chance of breast cancer is reduced by 50%. This study represents rock solid evidence, no unbiased physician or scientist can deny it. This is the type of information that we should have read on front pages of newspapers, but unfortunately in medical research sometimes the most important discoveries get little publicity. It is estimated that this 50% reduction in breast cancer could occur within 5 years, but it would require this knowledge becoming widely known. In another important development, in November,2011 was announced as the first ever annual Breast Cancer Prevention Month; November is not longer simply awareness month.
NEXT COLUMN: What about prostate cancer in men, and how much vitamin D should we take?