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Why UVB and Vitamin D Matter

Vitamin D plays an essential role in preventing disease and maintaining good health.1 It has long been known vitamin D is important for bone health, however, for the first time, there is data which shows that improvement in vitamin D levels will significantly affect expression of genes that “have a wide variety of biological functions of more than 160 pathways linked to cancer, autoimmune disorders and cardiovascular disease which have been associated with vitamin D deficiency.”2 Extraordinarily, researchers have found that every organ and tissue in your body has a receptor for vitamin D.3

Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with many disease states: neurological, psychiatric, inflammatory and immune conditions, a variety of cancers, survivability and outcomes from major surgeries, as well as a long standing relationship between vitamin D and healthy bones. Major institutions, such as the Mayo Clinic,4 the New England Journal of Medicine,5 Harvard Medical School 6 and Massachusetts Institute of Technology have reported that vitamin D has the potential to positively impact people suffering from Alzheimer disease, depression, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, chronic fatigue, chronic pain syndromes, arthritis, athletic performance, and more.

Obtaining the appropriate amount of vitamin D, which is produced when the skin is naturally exposed to the sun's ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, is imperative to maintaining good health. However, those in North American (and Europe) may not be exposed to the sun's natural vitamin D rays for 4-6 months of the year.7 This is one of the reasons that researchers believe that as many as 100 million Americans are deficient in vitamin D8 — increasing the risk of osteoporosis, autoimmune disorders, cancer, Alzheimer disease and many other health problems. Also, vitamin D is scarcely found in the food we typically eat,9 and it is almost impossible to obtain adequate amounts from food alone.10 Exacerbating the problem, is that the sunscreens we use almost entirely block the vitamin D producing UVB rays from the sun.

THE LIFESAVING IMPACT OF SUFFICIENT UVB EXPOSURE AND VITAMIN D LEVELS

Dr. William Grant, director of the Sunlight, Health and Nutrition Center in San Francisco suggests that increased sun exposure would result in 185,000 fewer cases of internal cancers every year. Dr. Grant and Dr. Michael Holick, a noted vitamin D expert, analyzed the rate of cancers in various parts of the US in relation to the amount of sunlight the region receives. They concluded that 50,000 to 63,000 individuals in the United States die prematurely from cancer annually due to insufficient vitamin D.11 University of California, San Diego, researchers estimate that each year 250,000 cases of colon cancer and 350,000 cases of breast cancer could be prevented worldwide by increasing Vitamin D levels.12

THE ECONOMIC IMPACT OF VITAMIN D DEFICIENCIES

A panel of vitamin D experts including Dr. William Grant, Drs. Cedric and Frank Garland and Dr. Edward Gorman concluded that in Western Europe alone raising the population’s vitamin D level to a normal level (40 nanograms per millimeter) could result in a savings of 187 billion Euros per year. Approximately $230 billion per year. Dr. Grant lead an additional study to estimate the economic burden and premature death rate in Canada attributable to low vitamin D levels. His research concluded that again if Canadians increased their vitamin D to a normal level the death rate could fall by 40,600 per year and the economic burden would be reduced by $18.3 billion.13

Did you know?

Below are some interesting facts about vitamin D that you might not know.

Some facts you might not be aware of…

  • Dr. Oz, America’s doctor, recommends getting 15 minutes of daily sun exposure without sunscreen.16
  • Gwyneth Paltrow is a big proponent of getting sun — following a bone fracture that required surgery, she discovered that she had the beginning stages of osteopenia, and was told by her doctors that her vitamin D levels were extremely low. They advised her to spend some time in the sun, and Paltrow has reversed her low vitamin D level diagnosis.17
  • Countries where people are exposed to high levels of UVB rays from the sun have lower breast cancer rates. The more sunlight exposure and the higher the levels of vitamin D, the lower the breast cancer rates18.
  • A study analyzed rates of cancer in the U.S. in relation to the amount of sunlight received, and concluded that 50,000 to 63,000 people in the U.S. die prematurely from cancer due to vitamin D deficiencies19.
  • Multiple studies have documented an association between obesity and low vitamin D levels.20
  • A 2009 study found that women who live farther from the equator have a greater risk of having autistic children21. People who live farther from the equator generally receive less sunlight, and consequently produce less vitamin D.
  • Mayo Clinic notes that vitamin D supplements, alone or in combination with calcium, have been associated with a decreased risk of certain types of cancers, such as colorectal, cervical, breast and prostate.22
  • Harvard Medical School research shows that vitamin D helps protect against skin cancer and other cancers by influencing cell growth and inhibiting cells from turning into cancer cells.23

Resources

1 Reichrath J, Nürnberg B. Cutaneous vitamin D synthesis versus skin cancer development: The Janus faces of solar UV-radiation. Dermatoendocrinol. 2009 Sep-Oct; 1(5): 253–261.

2 Hossein-nezhad A, et al. Influence of Vitamin D Status and Vitamin D3 Supplementation on Genome Wide Expression of White Blood Cells: A Randomized Double-Blind Clinical Trial. PLoS ONE. 2013 8(3).

3 Holick MF. Vitamin D: a d-lightful solution for health. J Investig Med. 2011 Aug; 59(6):872-80

4 Vitamin D: Many Benefits, Mayo Clinic Health Letter, Sept. 16, 2009.

5 Holick MF. Vitamin D deficiency. N. Engl. J. Med. (2007) 357 (3): 266–81.

6 Cui R. et al. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School. Central Role of p53 in the Suntan Response and Pathologic Hyperpigmentation. Cell 128, 853-864, March 9, 2007.

7 Webb AR. et al. Influence of season and latitude on the cutaneous synthesis of vitamin D3: exposure to winter sunlight in Boston and Edmonton will not promote vitamin D3 synthesis in human skin. J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. 1988; 67:373–378.

8 Dr. Oz quoted on Good Morning America can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6D9aANoN0-Y

9 National Institute of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements: Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet For Vitamin D, June 24, 2011.

10 Lipman. Vitamin D Health: Why You Shouldn't Shun the Sun. Huffington Post. May 22, 2010.

11 Grant WB. An estimate of premature cancer mortality in the United States due to inadequate doses of solar ultraviolet-B radiation, Cancer, 2002; 94:1867-75.

12 Grant W, PhD. Reduce Your Risk of Cancer With Sunlight Exposure. Sunlight, Nutrition and Health Resource Center. March 31, 2004.

13 Id.

14 Cannell, J, MD. The Athlete’s Edge: Quicker, Stronger, Faster with Vitamin D. Here & Now Books; 2011, 29.

15 Id.

16 Can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6D9aANoN0-Y

17 Can be found at Gwyneth Paltrow’s Internet Newsletter http://www.goop.com/journal/do/88/vitamin-d

18 Mohr, S.B et al. Relationship between Low Ultraviolet B Irradiance and Higher Breast Cancer Risk in 107 Countries. The Breast Journal, May-June 2008.

19 Cannell, The Athlete’s Edge: Quicker, Stronger, Faster with Vitamin D, 2011.

20 Id.

21 Grant, W.B. et al. Epidemiologic evidence supporting the role of maternal vitamin D deficiency as a risk factor for the development of infantile autism. Dermato-Endocrinology, July 2009.

22 Vitamin D: Many Benefits, Mayo Clinic Health Letter, Sept. 16, 2009.

23 Cui R. et al. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School. Central Role of p53 in the Suntan Response and Pathologic Hyperpigmentation. Cell 128, 853-864, March 9, 2007.

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