In case you haven’t already heard, vitamin D may be one of your best defenses against a whole range of devastating diseases that are common in our region. Optimal levels of vitamin D substantially reduce your risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer, ovarian cancer, MS and depression. And this powerful vitamin, which isn’t really a vitamin at all but in its activated form is one of the body’s most powerful hormones, also has immune-enhancing qualities to ward off seasonal colds and flu.
If you’re not yet convinced that supplementing your diet with vitamin D is key to your overall health and well-being, take this short quiz. It’ll hopefully motivate you to make sure that you have an optimal level of vitamin D, especially as we head into winter and are less likely to see the sun.
1. How much vitamin D should healthy adults take to supplement their diets?
2. Studies have shown that vitamin D can help protect against cancer. True or False.
3. The Northwest has some of the highest rates of breast cancer, MS and depression in the country. True or False.
4. Which age-group is at highest risk for vitamin D deficiency?
5. It takes about 10–15 minutes of exposure to noon-time sun to get my daily recommended dose of vitamin D. True or False?
6. Vitamin D will wash off my skin if I shower too soon after being in the sun. True or False?
7. Based on recent research, vitamin D blood levels are considered low when they are:
8. Parents who put sunscreen on their children whenever they are outdoors are putting them at risk for life-threatening diseases. True or False?
9. Survival rates from cancer-related surgery are highest in the fall. True or False?
10. Optimal levels of activated vitamin D can halt tumor growth. True or False?
If you know the answers to more than half of these questions, congratulations! Being knowledgeable about the importance of optimal vitamin D levels is crucial for staying healthy.
But knowledge alone can’t keep you healthy. Being committed to regular supplementation and sunlight exposure (when available) is the best way to protect your body from the cancers and autoimmune diseases that plague our region. And remember, without at least 50 ng/ml in your body, you won't be tapping into the powerful benefits vitamin D has to offer.
Dr. Lucinda Messer is a naturopathic physician and author of Powerful Medicine: Vitamin D; Shedding Light on a Worldwide Health Crisis. She specializes in anti-aging medicine and therapeutic oncology.
1. Although the U.S. Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences continues to recommend just 200 IU (international units) a day for healthy women younger than 50, 400 IU for women 51–70 and 600 IU for women 71 and older, the Vitamin D Council, along with most naturopaths and many doctors, now recommend 5,000–10,000 IU daily.
2. True. Preliminary studies have in fact shown that vitamin D has a protective effect against breast, prostate and colon cancer, and meta-analyses by researchers of multiple studies at the University of California, San Diego suggest that raising blood levels of vitamin D could prevent one-half of the cases of breast cancer and two-thirds of the cases of colorectal cancer in the U.S.
3. True. Our region unfortunately has higher rates than most other parts of the country for all of these devastating diseases. These rates are increasingly linked to vitamin D deficiencies which are much more common given the Northwest’s latitude and dense cloud cover.
4. A and D. Babies are completely dependent on vitamin D from breast milk. If the mother is vitamin D deficient she will not provide enough to her child. Elderly individuals are also at high risk, as aged skin has less ability to synthesize vitamin D.
5. It depends. If your skin tone is light it will typically take 10–20 minutes to produce your daily recommended dose; if your skin tone is medium to dark it could take up to 3 hours to synthesize the same amount.
6. True. Pre-vitamin D is synthesized in your skin and is found in the oil glands. If you shower before the pre-vitamin D has been absorbed and converted to vitamin D, it will wash off and your vitamin D levels will not rise. The absorption process takes a few hours.
7. C. Having a blood level below 50 ng/ml (as measured in the 25-hydroxyvitamin D test, also called a 25 (OH)D) is now considered inadequate to harness the protective benefits of activated vitamin D, which include reducing blood pressure, reducing inflammation, boosting the immune system, balancing blood sugar, improving bone health and providing protection from cancer and viruses.
8. True. If you’re not providing your children an adequate supplemental dose of vitamin D, keeping them away from sunlight puts them at risk for a number of childhood illnesses, including autism and diabetes. Check with your child’s health care provider for recommendations.
9. True. Studies have shown a correlation between surviving cancer-related surgery and vitamin D levels and the season when cancer is first diagnosed. Vitamin D levels are typically highest in the fall after summertime sun and lowest in the spring after the long winter.
10. True. Vitamin D levels over 80ng/ml are recommended for patients who have cancer or an autoimmune disease to harness the powerful benefits of vitamin D. Studies in rats and in laboratory cultures have been shown that vitamin D can halt tumor growth and reduce tumor size.
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