Online Health Articles

Vitamin D


Vitamin D may be the Most Important Supplement You Take This Fall and Winter

If you would like to have a winter free of coughs, colds, running noses and influenza: if you would like added protection against the most common cancers: breast, colorectal and prostate; if you would like to live a life free of heart disease, osteoporosis and dementia; In fact you if you want to increase your longevity, then there are two things you must do. During the spring and summer months, you must get 20 minutes of unprotected sunlight each day and during the fall and winter months, when the sun has retreated southward, you must take a Vitamin D supplement of 2000 I.U. daily.

There are now thousands of studies extolling the benefits of Vitamin D the most recent ones being in the Archives of Internal Medicine which reaffirmed cancer protection along with protection against osteoporosis and dementia and a recent Study at the University of Toronto showing that Vitamin D prevents heart disease and hence longevity.

When the sun comes in contact with your skin Vitamin D is produced and stored as cholecalciferol. This is a precursor of a hormone known as 25-hydroxycalciferol which protects our cells from breast cancer, prostate cancer and colorectal cancer. It also protects our cells from invasion by most bacteria, viruses and especially the influenza virus. Recent studies with twins have shown that babies genetically predisposed to multiple sclerosis may not even get the disease if they are exposed to sunlight when they are infants. Incidentally, Canada has one of the highest rates of MS and breast cancer in the world and the long winters with little sunshine are thought to be a primary cause.

Starting around 1990, skin doctors started to seriously warn people about the connection between unprotected exposure to the sun and skin cancer. They put such fear into the population that people who normally waited for summer to get outside and enjoy the warm sunshine after a long cold winter became terrified. They smothered themselves with sun block with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 60 or more. They covered their bodies and wore huge hats. When we look back on the research that produced these fears, we find that nearly all the studies were among populations living on the continent of Australia.  That country has the highest incidence of melanomas (skin cancers) in the world for two reasons. In the first place, the native indigenous people to this area were dark skinned and designed for this continent. Yet the majority of people living there are white skinned descendants from northern Europeans exiled there from Britain for crimes. Secondly, the ozone layer over Australia is the thinnest of any place on the planet and there are large gaping holes making sunshine in Australia almost lethal.

The fact is that in Canada, skin cancers do not even make the top ten list and if diagnosed early, the cure rate is approximately 85%. On the other hand recent studies have shown that clinically low levels of Vitamin D will make you 30 times more likely to get breast cancer, prostate cancer or colorectal cancer. Recently Dr.Edward Gorham, a professor of family and preventative medicine at the Moore’s Cancer Centre in California determined that most people receive about 200 units a day of Vitamin D, either from two glasses of milk, a supplement or sunshine. Working in conjunction with the University of British Columbia, he came to the conclusion that the 22,000 new cases of breast cancer in Canada could be reduced by 50% if people increased their Vitamin D intake from 200 units to 2000 units daily.

Last fall, Dr.J.J.Cannell of the Atascadero State Hospital in California published a study in which 2000 units of Vitamin D taken daily actually prevented an outbreak of Influenza A. The study was originally designed to measure the effect of Vitamin D on calcium transport, but during the study a virulent flu epidemic broke out in the hospital. They tried to separate the ill from the healthy, quarantined as many patients as possible, but in the end nearly every patient came down with the flu except for that small group in the Vitamin D study.  Dr.Cannell looked into other similar studies and found that influenza epidemics take place in northern climates when we have the least amount of sunshine. He also found that the only time influenza epidemics occurred in the tropics was during the rainy season. The common denominator, lack of sunshine and hence lack of Vitamin D.

This year, 2009 we had a huge epidemic of H1N1 influenza starting in April and running through the summer. Although millions of people were infected by this virus, the death toll was the lowest in history and I believe this was because this pandemic occurred during the summer months in which Vitamin D from the sun was plentiful.

In 2006 there were 4500 new cases of melanoma (skin cancer) diagnosed in Canada. That same year 880 people died from this disease. In the winter of 2006-2007, 21,000 Canadians died from an epidemic of Influenza and the majority of those fatalities were infants and seniors over the age of 65. In this country, your chances of dying from the flu are almost three times greater than your chance of dying from skin cancer.

If you read my columns regularly you know I believe in moderation. Try and eat a healthy diet but it is OK to have a decadent treat once in a while. Mild exercise is sufficient, a 30 or 40 minute walk a day. You do not have to go to a gym and do a three hour workout 5 days a week. And when it comes to sunshine, moderation is the key. Never allow your skin to get sunburned because that type of tissue damage done regularly can lead to melanomas. But get outside every day and have at least 20 minutes of unprotected sunlight exposure to your skin and it does not have to be consecutive. It can be 5 minutes here and there over the course of the day. Every living thing on this planet depends either directly or indirectly on the sun. It makes no sense at all to completely avoid any exposure.

Vitamin D is the only Vitamin that we do not get from our food supply. Some milks are fortified with 100 units in an 8 ounce glass but you would need to drink 20 glasses of milk a day to get your 2000 units of Vitamin D. It is only when we are exposed to sunshine that our bodies produce significant amounts of Vitamin D for our natural health.

These beautiful summer days we have enjoyed are rapidly getting shorter and shorter. The sun is slowly moving away from our northern hemisphere and the first day of fall usually occurs around the 20th of September. Three months later, December 21st is the shortest day of the year and we are usually into severe cold and flu season.  The old theory about people being in closer proximity in the winter months does not even make sense. People who travel on public transportation are just as crowded all year long. Workplaces are not full of excessive employees during the winter months. In fact, in our crowded society we are in close proximity with other human beings all year round.   The bacteria, viruses and influenza bugs do not go away for the summer. They do not travel to South American winters when North American summers arrive. The flu is not a visitor that comes for Christmas and then leaves in the spring. The difference is sunshine. During the spring and summer seasons0 we are protected by the overhead rays of the sun which fortify our immune systems with Vitamin D.

With the days getting shorter and the sun moving away from us, I would strongly recommend that you start taking 2000 units of Vitamin D every day right through the winter until daylight savings time in the spring. After that you can cut down to 1000 units or get about 10 or 20 minutes of unprotected sun exposure daily.