Vitamin D and Breast Cancer “Climb the Hill”

December 03, 2012

Vitamin D and Breast Cancer “Climb the Hill” 

 Reference:  Sharif B Mohr Anti-Cancer Research,  Engel Cancer Epid Biomark Pre 

 We’ve talked about Vitamin D and cancer for a couple of years.  There has been all sorts of data going back and forth as to whether it is safe or not.  Without the benefit of long-term randomized, placebo-controlled trials, which are way too expensive to run when they would take 20 years to come to conclusive results, we are left with other studies like epidemiological comparisons.  Some denigrate those studies as being the equivalent of “hear-say” in a courtroom.  There are, however, criteria, by which you can take observational studies and use statistical tools to confirm their validity.  

That’s what the Hill Criteria do.   These include a list of criteria like the strength of the association, the consistency across studies, the specificity, the temporal relationship and plausibility. Dr. Engel looked at 67,721 French women and followed their development over 10 years of breast cancer in relation to their Vitamin D level.   What he concluded was that the threshold of protection was just too high to reach in northern latitudes without some sort of supplementation in the winter months, particularly as you grow older.   

This data was then part of what Dr. Mohr dissected into the Hill criteria to see if they could parse out a valid measure of Vitamin D's effect on breast cancer.    Their conclusion was that Vitamin D can be shown to meet the Hill Criteria.  That moves Vitamin D from speculation and association to “proof”. The number that was dissected out was 47 ng as a threshold to reach to get adequate protection.  

We discussed, a couple of months back, that free-living adults in Tanzania with dark skin will naturally maintain a level of 55 ng or so.  They get sunshine year around.  Not so in France, or in the northern part of the USA. In Wisconsin, Caucasian women will drop down to about 20-25 ng in the winter, and reach up to 45 ng during the summer.  That suggests that for a couple of months each year, you are protected (barely), and then for at least half the year, you are not.    

As you age, your skin’s ability to make D declines, and your tendency to spend time outdoors declines.  Reaching the threshold of adequate D just doesn’t happen enough of the time reliably enough. Is D a plausible preventative strategy for cancer?   The answer would be yes. The mechanisms are well-known.  

D is actually an extremely potent hormone.  Its job is to tell living cells to mature into mature cells.  Immature, dividing cells that become uncontrolled are called cancer.  If they can be persuaded to stop dividing, they will then do their natural function and go through their natural life cycle, which includes dying and being recycled.  All women likely have early changes of breast cancer in their breasts from age 20 onwards.  The question is not whether immature cells are there but whether their promotion onwards towards cancer can be diverted towards maturity.   

The same logic pertains to men with prostate cancer.  Every man over age 70 has it.  The question is not whether you have it, but whether you die from it, or just with it.  Vitamin D becomes the hormone chiefly responsible to turn immature cells into mature cells.  That sounds like a cancer fighter to me. 

 WWW. What will work for me?  I’m now calling 47 ng my new minimum in all my discussions with folks.  By that criteria, every woman in Wisconsin is low in Dec.  It’s now Dec. Either you buy your ticket to Cancun or start taking your D before it’s too late.   In our recent trip to Switzerland (our son lives in Geneva), I enquired at a pharmacy about Vitamin D and was shown a 100,000 IU vial.  “It’s my best seller,” the pharmacist said.  As we were speaking, an elderly lady came in, plunked down one Swiss Franc, and he gave her a vial of D.   “We all take that once a month,” he said.    100,000 IU, in a single dose, will raise your level 14 ng in one day.  And it's safe.    (Remember: it takes a year to reach now homeostasis when you change the dose of Vitamin D.  It acts like your volume of distribution is 100,000 liters and takes a substantial loading dose to raise your level.  This explains why many studies on D don't show much effect because a dose of extra D in the range of 200 or 400 IU will not raise your D very much.  And not for years at that.)

Written by John Whitcomb, MD Brookfield Longevity and Healthy Living Clinic, 17575 W North Ave, # 160 Milwaukee, WI 53045 262-784-5300