Vitamin D and Sun

Vitamin D to cut Breast Cancer?

“Top surgeon calls for all women to be given Vitamin D to cut breast cancer… as ballet dancers reveal they use pills to keep them strong.”

A leading breast surgeon in the UK has said that all women over the age of 20 should take a daily dose of Vitamin D to reduce their chances of developing breast cancer.

Prof Mokbel, who amongst various senior health positions, is an honorary consultant breast surgeon at St George’s Hospital is also apparently writing to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to argue that making the ‘sunshine vitamin’ free on the NHS would save 1,000 lives a year.

There is also fascinating research involving The Birmingham Royal Ballet and Vitamin D which indicates that good levels of supplementation increased dancers leg strength by a fifth and cut the chance of injury – and more on this later in this article.

Vitamin D is mostly made in our skin by exposure to sunlight. Hence Vitamin D is termed ‘the sunshine vitamin’

The breast cancer and Vitamin D story was reported in the Daily Mail (headline above, link to full story below), however surprisingly so far it has received little other media attention. Interestingly the Mail story included the comment “However, Jessica Kirby, of Cancer Research UK, disagrees with Prof Mokbel’s analysis. She said: ‘There have been a large number of studies about Vitamin D and breast cancer and it looks as if people’s Vitamin D levels don’t affect breast cancer risk. Trials in which people took Vitamin D supplements have shown no effect.’”

Vitamin D and Breast Cancer Research

The Mail article had previously noted that “Evidence that Vitamin D supplements may combat breast cancer has been building. In 2008, a Canadian study showed breast cancer patients with good Vitamin D levels were about half as likely to die from the disease as those with a serious deficiency. Norwegian and German studies have reached similar conclusions.”

In fact there have been a number of study’s that seem to indicate that breast cancer may have been more prevalent in women with low Vitamin D levels; and be more aggressive in such situations too. Vitamin D does have a number of important ‘permitted’ health claims from EFSA (The European Food Safety Authority) including contributing to the maintenance of normal bone health and the normal function of the immune system.

Raising the awareness of the importance of good Vitamin D levels for us all has been dramatically elevated in the last few years; and the Government has made efforts to get the message out. Currently the UK chief medical officer for England recommends that all pregnant and breastfeeding women, children aged six months to five-years-old, people aged 65 years and over and people not exposed to much sun should take daily vitamin D supplements.

Vitamin D and The Birmingham Royal Ballet

In the same article the Daily Mail also reported on fascinating Vitamin D research with members of the Birmingham Royal Ballet. “Vitamin D deficiency puts elite ballet dancers at risk of injury – Researchers say vitamin supplements can help ward off injuries caused by long hours inside with little exposure to sunlight.” Was a comment from the Guardian (link below). Whilst the Mail noted that the research indicated that “Supplements also increase leg strength by a fifth and cut the chance of injury, according to a study of members of the Birmingham Royal Ballet.”

The Sunshine Vitamin

Vitamin D is mostly made in our skin by exposure to sunlight. Hence Vitamin D is termed ‘the sunshine vitamin’ and if you are lacking in exposure to sunshine then your Vitamin D levels are likely to be poor. This is of course of great relevance in the winter months in the UK when daylight hours are short and sunshine often lacking. It is one of the likely causes of widespread Vitamin D deficiency in Scotland.

As we age our body does not convert vitamin D from sunlight as easily; hence government advice on vitamin D supplements for the over-65s. And we should note that although the Daily Mail article was specifically discussing women and breast cancer good Vitamin D levels are equally important for Men and especially children.

Most of the foods we eat contain very little vitamin D, though more recently some makes of processed foods are fortified with added vitamin D. Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines plus milk, eggs, beef, liver and Swiss cheese are all natural food sources of Vitamin D.

Vitamin D3 and RDA

Vitamin D3 is the most bioavailable form of this nutrient and far preferable to Vitamin D2 to supplement with. There is ongoing debate on what levels of Vitamin D to supplement with – recent studies suggest that significantly higher levels than the current European RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) are optimally beneficial. Interestingly, in terms of dosages, in the Mail report on the Royal Ballet study there was the following:

“Rheumatologist Dr Roger Wolman, from the city’s Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, said: ‘We suspected muscle strength would improve but the results were impressive.’ The dancers took a pill containing 2,000 International Units (i.u.) of Vitamin D every day for four months last winter. The dosage is ten times the European recommended daily amount, but in Dr Wolman’s opinion it is still ‘quite a low level of supplementation’.”

Indeed a daily dose of Vitamin D3 at 2,000 i.u. for adults would for many health professionals be a suggested dose; naturally this would be much lower for a child. It was interesting that the Daily Mail article commented that ‘The pills would cost the NHS 12p per woman per day’ (i.e. an estimate of cost if they were to be given out free). Good quality Vitamin D3 supplements are not expensive and the argument would be that a ‘preventative’ measure of people taking such a supplement to potentially minimise health risks would actually save the health authorities a great deal of money over time.

Naturally there is the option to take a multivitamin and mineral that includes Vitamin D3. It is always important to select such a multi-formula with a nutrient content tailored for your age and gender, or specifically for children where appropriate.

Relevant Links
Daily Mail: Top Surgeon call for women to be given Vitamin D
Guardian: Vitamin D deficiency puts elite ballet dancers at risk of injury
Cytoplan Blog: Vitamin D and New Research

If you have any questions regarding this article, any of the health topics raised, or any other health matters please do contact me (Amanda) by phone or email at any time.

Amanda Williams
01684 310099

Last updated on 15th December 2014 by


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