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Home > Health Information > Preventative Care > Vitamin D > Vitamin D & Skin Cancer Prevention

Protect your Body from Cancer with Vitamin D

Much recent health media attention has been focusing on the perils of vitamin D deficiency, pertinent because experts now say that most of us do not have enough of it in our bodies.

Vitamin D is synthesized by the body, primarily via exposure to the sun's rays. In recent years there has been a lot of attention paid to the link between excessive sun exposure and skin cancer. In reaction to this, many people are covering up excessively, using sun blocks and sunscreens which starve our body of Vitamin D.

The Anticancer Effect of Vitamin D

Once inside the body, vitamin D is converted into the active vitamin D hormone known as calcitriol and it is then used to repair damage to the organs and tissues. Importantly, Vitamin D helps to rebuild organs and cells that are damaged by cancers and tumorous growth. This cell nurturing is done in a number of ways; vitamin D encourages cell diversity and differentiation, which acts to competitively reduce cancers multiplying and spreading, as cancers tend to spread quicker in areas of the body where there is a marked lack of cell differentiation. Vitamin D also slows the reproductive rate of cancerous cells as well as preventing dormant tumors from becoming active once more by decreasing the rate of blood vessel growth. Blood vessels are one of the key hallmarks of tumors; without this dense network of oxygenated blood, tumors are unable to grow.

By pooling studies in vitamin D and cancer, epidemiologist Dr Cedric Garland has identified evidence which indicates that thousands of cases of breast cancer and colorectal cancer could have been prevented by increased vitamin D intake. This sad fact should serve as a warning for the rest of us; we are all at risk of common cancers such as pancreatic, lung, ovarian, prostate and skin cancers. Dr Garland's findings are further supported by other research which suggests that vitamin D in adequate levels in the body can reduce the risk of cancer by up to 60% compared to deficient individuals. It has also been shown that 30% of cancer deaths may have been prevented by increasing vitamin D production. Those with dark skin living in temperate or cold climates are at a particular risk, because they require a higher level of sun exposure in order to achieve the same level of vitamin D production.

Exposure to Sunlight Produces Vitamin D in the Body

Increasing vitamin D in the body is done primarily through increasing sun exposure. However, during winter months it may be more practical to take a vitamin D supplement, although sun exposure is advised as a primary measure. Seemingly flying in the face of widely understood cancer predictions, research has shown that women with pale skin with high sun exposure are half as likely to develop cancer that spreads from the breast to other parts of the body when compared to women with low sun exposure. This finding may well confuse some people; however it is now known that it is essential to spend plenty of time in the sun with plenty of skin exposed in order to produce adequate amounts of vitamin D. As long as you don't burn, you should not be posing any harm to your skin or to your cancer risk. In fact, by increasing the level of vitamin D production in your body you are decreasing your risk of many common cancers.

Giving guidelines for the amount of time to spend in the sun is difficult because it depends on the amount of skin you expose, cloud cover, time of year and time of day. During the peak of the day, around noon, you will get the most effective exposure, due to the higher proportion of UVB rays which contribute to vitamin D production. A general guideline for pale skinned individuals is to spend about 15 minutes in the sun, until the skin turns very pale pink - any pinker and you are at risk of getting burnt.

Vitamin D Supplements

The amount of vitamin D that should be present in your body, around 15,000 units, varies from the dose you should take in a supplement. Vitamin D supplements can be taken if conventional sun exposure is not possible, however it is by no means a replacement because the types of vitamin D are very different: that produced by the sun's action is readily useable by the body, whereas the supplement form is much more difficult for the body to use. Whilst tanning beds are the third option, you should make sure that they are safe, as many can expose you to dangerous levels of UVA radiation (as opposed to the beneficial UVB radiation).

How Do I know if I'm Vitamin D Deficient?

Often the problems associated with vitamin D deficiency don't manifest themselves immediately. For this reason it is a good idea to keep abreast of your vitamin D levels on an ongoing basis. You can do this through your doctor as well as through services such as D*Action, the international vitamin D health campaign.

Skin Cancer Prevention and Treatment

Recent findings have indicated that the treatment of benign and malignant skin cancers may be helped by application of a cream containing extract of eggplant, known as BEC and BEC5. Whilst causing some mild side effects, this cream has been reported in the Journal of Clinical Medicine to promote the regression of skin cancers.

Simply eating eggplant will not have the same treatment effect, however adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle is of course a great way of reducing your risk of cancer. Eating plenty of raw vegetables, whole grains and omega 3 from oily fish are just some of the ways that you can bolster the body's natural defenses against the more harmful effects of the sun's rays, boosting antioxidant levels to combat free radicals and hence slowing the ageing process.


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