Vitamin D and the big C

Like school grades, the essential vitamins begin at the front of the alphabet: A, B, and C. Vitamin D? As its letter suggests, many people may view D as one of the lesser ones.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning the body stores what it doesn’t use in fatty tissues and the liver. Its main job is to help the body absorb bone-building calcium. But vitamin D could play another significant role in health.

“Vitamin D may reduce chronic inflammation and boost immunity, both of which may lower the risk of some cancers,” says Stephanie Smith-Warner, an epidemiologist with Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Finding the link

While research is ongoing, several studies have found a link between blood levels of vitamin D and cancer risk.

For instance, one study published in the February 2019 issue of The Journal of the National Cancer Institute looked at the vitamin D levels of 12,000 people. It found that those with inadequate levels, defined as less than 12 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL), had a greater risk of colorectal cancer compared with those whose levels measured 20 to 25 ng/mL, the lower range of what is considered sufficient for bone health. Additional benefit was seen in people with 30 to 40 ng/mL, levels above what is sufficient. No extra benefit was seen in people with more than 40 ng/mL.

Vitamin D also may help people if they get cancer. A 2020 study called the Vitamin D and Omega-3 Trial, or VITAL, found that healthy people who took a daily vitamin D supplement of 2,000 international units (IU) did not have lower rates of cancer over all compared with those who took a placebo. However, among people who later got cancer, those who’d taken the supplements had a 17% lower chance of being diagnosed with metastatic cancer (cancer that spreads from where it began to other parts of the body) or dying from their cancer, compared with those who’d taken a placebo.

While the VITAL study was a randomized trial — meaning it might suggest cause and effect — the earlier study, and similar ones, only show an association, so it’s not clear what effect, if any, vitamin D has on cancer prevention and prognosis. Still, it appears there is a higher cancer risk among people with a vitamin D deficiency and amounts higher than the current recommendations may help.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025 say that adult men up to age 70 should get 600 IU daily. Those ages 71 and older should get 800 IU. Yet the guidelines also point out that many people don’t get these minimum amounts. The problem may lie in vitamin D’s limited sources.

Sunshine and food

The easiest way to get vitamin D is up in the sky. The body manufactures vitamin D when the sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays penetrate the skin. But geography, season, time of day, and how much skin is exposed play a big part in how much vitamin D you produce.

However, precautions against skin cancer makes many older adults avoid harmful rays through liberal sunscreen application, wide-brimmed hats, and protective clothing. (You still make some vitamin D when wearing sunscreen, as SPF 30 or 50 formulas only block 97% to 98% of UVB rays. You make even more if you apply too little or don’t fully cover all exposed skin, but it’s still a small amount.)

Few foods are naturally rich in vitamin D. Fatty fish like trout and salmon are the best places to find high amounts of vitamin D. A 3-ounce serving of either offers a robust 570 IU to 645 IU. Perhaps the best vitamin D–rich meal is a breakfast featuring cold cereal (see “Champion D breakfast”).

Champion D breakfastA great way to help get your daily vitamin D is with a traditional cereal breakfast. A cup of fortified cereal (preferably whole grain and low sugar) has about 80 IU of vitamin D, depending on the brand. One cup of fortified cow’s milk has about 120 IU, while fortified plant-based milks like soy, almond, and oat offer 100 IU to 144 IU. A cup of some fortified orange juice has about 100 IU.

Give me a D

Since it can be a challenge to reach your 600 IU to 800 IU via sunlight and diet, you may need a vitamin D supplement, or a multivitamin that contains the RDA for vitamin D. Supplements come in doses of 400 IU, 600 IU, and 1,000 IU or even higher. The National Academy of Medicine considers up to 4,000 IU daily as safe.

A blood test to check your level can help your doctor determine whether you need a supplement and, if so, the appropriate dose. “Focusing on getting at least the minimum daily amount of vitamin D is a good step toward maintaining bone health and may even help prevent cancer development and cancer-related death,” says Smith-Warner.

Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren

2 Corinthians 13:9 For we rejoice when we ourselves are weak but you are strong; this we also pray for, that you be made complete.

Colossians 1:28 We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.

Colossians 4:12 Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.

2 Corinthians 10:15-16 not boasting beyond our measure, that is, in other men’s labors, but with the hope that as your faith grows, we will be, within our sphere, enlarged even more by you, so as to preach the gospel even to the regions beyond you, and not to boast in what has been accomplished in the sphere of another.

2 Thessalonians 1:3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater;

2 Peter 3:18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

Ephesians 1:17-18 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,

Ephesians 3:16-19 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, read more

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