I have already written a blog on boosting the immune system and how to help yourself if you become neutropenic but as you know I am getting research through all the time and some more has come to light that I feel would be really useful and interesting, which is linked to this. It is perhaps more pertinent now that we are coming up to the winter months when people tend to need a bit of an immune boost any way.
What are the benefits of vitamin D
Interestingly vitamin D has been the most researched nutrient in the last couple of years and its benefits appear to be quite staggering and really cannot be ignored. The evidence of its benefits for people with cancer is quite profound. I have always been very aware of the importance of vitamin D and the immune system but this particular report puts it all very succinctly about its added benefits for people with cancer. It states that vitamin D is not only an important factor in cancer prevention but it has been shown to:
- Activate the immune system to work against rogue cells
- It has the ability to normalize and correct cancer cells.
It is already being used as part of a breast cancer treatment programme in some US hospitals used in conjunction with radiotherapy.
The pharmaceutical company Sloan- Kettering are in trials for a synthetically made form of vitamin D called ‘Asentar’, which they state has enormous potential for cancer patients.
All very interesting.
Let’s look a bit more deeply.
As an immune booster.
According to some research done in Copenhagen in 2010 It showed that in order for the immune system to attack pathogens the first thing the immune cells do is to bind with vitamin D in order to become active. So obviously without vitamin D they are saying that the immune system would not become active. This is backed up an article in a biophysics publication as far back as 2006. I am sure if I looked there would be a lot more articles saying the same thing.
The ability to normalize and correct cancer cells.
How exciting does this sound? Researchers have found that vitamin D can regulate cell differentiation (a process by which less specialised cells become more specialised which then give them a specific function) and proliferation (rapid reproduction of a cell or organism) and even repair DNA mechanisms. Cancer cells are undifferentiated, that means that they have no specific role to play. They do not understand how to act. Unlike normal differentiated cells, for example skin cells or Kidney cells or liver cells, which know how to behave and what to do because they have a specific role and they are normal. Researchers tell us that vitamin D can switch these undifferentiated cells into normal cells.
Tests in the laboratory have shown that Vitamin D also inhibits the growth of new blood vessels needed by tumours for growth and metabolism. This process is called ‘angiogenesis’. And if that was not enough it has been shown to greatly enhance radiotherapy effectiveness. It is being used at the Royal Marsden for this particular reason.
This is a lot to take in but all very exciting I think. Even if people are sceptical about these findings we all have to understand that deficiency in the UK is common. According to the national diet and nutrition survey of 2008, 90% of the general population in the UK have insufficient blood levels of vitamin D and that 5-10% are in severe deficiency. That is because you can only obtain reasonable levels of vitamin D from the sunshine. Need I say more, what sunshine you may ask.
Food sources are very limited it is mainly found in oily fish like salmon, trout, mackerel, tuna, herring sardines and pilchards, fortified breakfast cereals, full fat milk and egg yolks. So unless you eat plenty of these foods then the chances are you are not getting enough. For example a portion of salmon contains 794iu’s,and egg yolk contains 40 iu's and as people with cancer are recommended to have a minimum of 4000 iu's a day relying on food alone may be a problem. Compare this to the sunshine on a sunny day exposure to the sun for 15-30 minutes will manufacture 20.000iu’s of vitamin D.
When I originally qualified as a teacher many moons ago I was always told that vitamin D in large quantities was toxic to the body. Well this has been turned on its head. Vitamin D is reported to be completely safe even at very high levels. Experiments show that as much as 40,000iu a day over a period of months produced no toxic side effects.
So what is all of this telling us and what is best to do?
Well it is quite clear that we have problems in the western hemisphere getting enough sunlight to give us adequate levels of vitamin D and that we have potential problems getting enough from our food. Basically the only confident way to be sure of getting enough is to use a supplement. Now I know that some oncologists are very anti supplements and of course we must take into consideration their opinion as this is very important because you are working together. But it may be worth running the idea passed him or her and getting their opinion. It may even be worth taking in the blog to see if they are aware of the research and findings about vitamin D. The chances are they are deficient themselves!!.
If you do decide to go down the road of a supplement make sure that you buy vitamin D3. You can get this in drops or a capsule. It has been found that vitamin D is enhanced by the presence of vitamin K. This comes quite readily in all green leafy vegetables like cabbage, kale, spinach, lettuce, watercress, rocket and broccoli, also peas, green beans, green tea, oats and whole wheat products so this is easily available from the diet.
I hope that you have found this as interesting as me and perhaps consider the evidence that is around.
Blog originally written by Caroline Nov 2012