Sunday, April 29, 2007

Vitamin D Supplementation the Answer for Cancer?

This weekend the Globe and Mail published a piece on what promise to be the blockbuster findings of a study done by researchers in Nebraska:

"A four-year clinical trial involving 1,200 women found those taking the vitamin had about a 60-per-cent reduction in cancer incidence, compared with those who didn't take it, a drop so large -- twice the impact on cancer attributed to smoking -- it almost looks like a typographical error."

The women were apparently given 1,100 IU of vitamin D3 per day over the four years.

These claims are exciting but given their grandeur must also be greeted with skepticism. I am therefore anxious to examine the data myself. Unfortunately the article failed to mention when, or in which peer-reviewed (I assume) journal these results will be published. However the article did cite one of the authors as Robert Heaney, MD, of Creighton University, who "has worked for over 45 years in the study of osteoporosis and calcium physiology, and has published more than 300 original papers, chapters, monographs, and reviews in scientific and educational fields".

Check back for updates here on the bayblab as more information becomes available.

Also, see the slashdot post for interesting discussion, including why vitamin D has nothing to do with the evolution of human skin colour.

Update: A representative from the Creighton University Medical Center has informed me that the principal author of the study is in fact Joan Lappe, PhD in Nursing and Associate Professor and Creighton.

Update 2: I have also been informed that the article will appear in the June edition of The Journal of Clinical Nutrition. However, upon my request (wherein I identified myself as a member of the cancer research community), the authors informed me that no further information will be made available until the study is published. Which leaves me scratching my head as to how the Globe and Mail got a hold of the results and chose to jump on the story when the results haven't even yet been made available to members of the scientific community for discussion and scrutiny. Interestingly, no other media outlet accessible to Google news has reported on the study to date.

Update 3: Interesting paper that Jim Wint pointed out is in fact real and recently appeared in Cell - see "
Central Role of p53 in the Suntan Response and Pathologic Hyperpigmentation". Good to see even tanning bed proprietors are up on the scientific literature. I love it! (Haven't read the paper yet though, so can't say at this point whether I think it supports his claims.)

Update 4: I just bought 120, 000 IU of vitamin D3 at Shopper's Drug Mart for $6.99. Figured it couldn't hurt. Based on my previous experience with supplements, I'll take it faithfully for a couple of days then forget the whole thing.


Anonymous Coward said...

There is a renewal of vitamin use in cancer. We had Kruk give a talk recently on vitamin E to supress telomerase ...

Anonymous said...

There is a better answer than popping vitamin D pills.

Catch a tan! Vitamin D3 naturally processed by moderate UV light exposure on skin is healthier than vitamin D2 supplements. See:

Depending on one's skin type, just one or two sessions in a tanning bed will process all the healthy vitamin D3 a human body can use. Weekly tanning sessions will eliminate any vitamin D3 deficiency.

There is more good news. A recent medical study by Harvard Medical School's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute concluded that tanning protects against skin cancer. See:

Dermatologists have been misleading the public for years. Another recent study has concluded that using sunscreen is unsuitable for the prevention of skin cancer. See:

Apparently, moderate tanning is healthy behavior. Just don't sunburn!

Bayman said...

Hmmm...thanks Jim for the interesting comment. Not sure I can take your advice to heart though, seeing as how you RUN A TANNING SALON! I tend to not believe people who stand to profit from their scientific views.

Bayman said...

Nonetheless the idea does have merit, especially for the winter months...

Anonymous said...

Jim wint is correct. Research shows that melanoma risk is reduced considerably among those who are refularly in the sun as compared to those who avoid the sun. As Jim said, the key is not to burn. By the way, I do not own a tanning salon, although I do use a tanning bed in the winter. Neither am I on the payroll of any tanning bed organizations.

The research you mention by Dr. Heaney and colleagues is not surprising. In 1938, Dr. Sigismund Peller conducted cancer research on Navy personnel who either worked on the decks in the sunlight or worked below deck away from the sun. He found that those who worked in the sunlight had more common skin cancers, but that their rate of the deadly internal cancers such as prostate and colon cancers was reduced by 60% when compared with the “sunless” group. (Peller, S. Skin Irritation and cancer in the United States Navy. Am J Med Sci 1937;194:326-33) Extrapolating to today’s figures on cancer deaths from the major internal cancers, it can be seen that regular sunlight exposure and its corollary, vitamin D, might save over 300,000 lives per year. Dr. Heaney’s soon-to-be-published research will corroborate Peller’s findings from yesteryear.

The most complete and comprehensive book currently available on the health benefits of sunlight and vitamin D is my book SOLAR POWER FOR OPTIMAL HEALTH.

Dr. John Cannell and I are currently writing a book that documents the beneficial effects of sunlight and vitamin D on athletic performance. The health advantages of maintaining an optimal level of this potent substance—not really a vitamin—are amazing.

Bayman said...

Thanks for the interesting comments...definitely food for thought. I look forward to reading up on the literature you've pointed out. I've always been a believer in natural tanning, although I've never trusted tanning beds enough to use them. I think the key in summer months, as mentioned, is to control your dosage to avoid burning until you get a good tan built up. Certainly however, in light of these new findings, the health benefits of tanning beds is an issue that merits further study. In light of Heaney's new work, it really seems worth going back through the literature and looking at all the old data, including Dr. Peller's, and asking why this research is not communicated more effectively to the public.

Anonymous said...

I run a tanning salon. I do accentuate the positive benefits of UV light. I also understand the risks of overexposure.

Bayman, you are correct to question bias and alterior motives and a good place to start is with the AAD and all the dermatologists that rail against tanning.

Doctors can't easily charge $160 for a "theraputic UV treatment" while I charge $8. It's about money and competition.

When you see magazines like Cosmo bashing tanning, count the advertising pages for SPF and sunless products. It's about money.

The vitamin companies want to sell vitamin D pills. Tanning eliminates the need for vitamin D supplements. It's about money.

Here is an 2004 Press Release: "American Academy of Dermatology Teams Up with Drug Stores and Coppertone® to Mislead Sun-Tanners about Health Benefits of Sunshine: Same is true today. It's about money.

Sure, I want more customers. Everybody does. Read the medical studies and decide for yourself.

Follow the money.

Bayman said...

Certainly I agree that people should demand explanations and justification for any medical advice they receive, even from their doctor. Physicians are human and therefore can just as easily have their motivations corrupted as anyone else.
The info you pointed out linking the American Association of Dematologists to the sunscreen interesting is both informative and disturbing. I think this type of corporate interference is probably fairly common in medicine and is totally wrong. So agreed, people probably don't need to go nuts on sunscreen all summer, just when necessary to avoid the inflammatory effects of burning.

However I still disagree that people should pay to use your tanning salon for health reasons. It is much safer and cheaper to just take vitamin D3 supplements during the winter months, which, as the literature indicates, increases vitamin D levels and gives you the anti-cancer benefits etc. Although the UV rays from a tanning bed can also give you a healthy tan and drive D3 synthesis, it is all too easy to overdo things and induce inflammation. As one bayblab reader recently pointed out, "chicks come outta that thing looking like a lobster". There is no question that this inflammation is bad for your health and is a major factor in instigating many serious diseases including cancer.

Like most other things it life, moderation seems to be the key. For good health: moderate sun exposure, moderate use of suncreen when justified, moderate vitamin supplementation in the winter. For vanity (arguably) (but not for health), moderate use of tanning beds if that's what turns your crank. Personally I can do without the tanning bed and associated risk. If I was that insecure with my skin colour and being tanned for the ladies was that important to me, I'd sooner move to Mexico than pay to lie naked in a UV box. Then you get the sweet tan and the vitamin D minus the crappy winter.

Anonymous Coward said...

whatever, baybs digg brown guys...

Anonymous said...

I've heard that vitamin D is not very useful for some skin types? Is it true?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
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