Archives for September 2009

Amazing News on Vitamin D and Breast Cancer

summer path

Despite what you may be thinking, this is not a Vitamin D blog, although I do just happen to read a lot of news about Vitamin D, and this is the case because Vitamin D is making the news a lot lately. A new study, which I saw little trace of in the mainstream media, suggests Vitamin D is a potent cancer preventative agent, and extends the life of cancer patients.

The study measured 25-Hydroxyvitamin D (Calcidiol) levels in 512 women (around age 50) over the course of 12 years, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer in the early stages. They divided women into three types of Vitamin D blood levels, “deficient” (< 50 nmol/L), “insufficient” (50 to 72 nmol/L), and “sufficient” (> 72 nmol/L). What they found after 12 years was that those women who were “deficient” had higher risk of both cancer recurrence and of death. What percentage of higher risk of cancer recurrence did those deficient in Vitamin D have? Take a guess.

Was it 10%? No

Was it 20% No

30%? No

50% Keep going

75%? Nope

85%? Still higher

94%. Yes, those who were deficient in Vitamin D had a 94% increased risk of breast cancer than those who had sufficient levels of the Vitamin.

And what was the difference in death risk? Those with deficient levels of Vitamin D had a 73% increased risk of death from breast cancer than those with high levels of Vitamin D.

The researchers admit that to get blood levels this high requires supplementation at around 4000 IU/day, depending of course, on sun exposure and other factors such as body size. Considering the RDA is only 400 IU, and the “upper daily limit” is 2000 IU, this seems quite high. The reality is that the RDA and upper daily limit are ridiculously low. 400 IU is enough Vitamin D to prevent the most obvious deficiency disease: rickets. However, we need much more Vitamin D than this to prevent other problems, and our bodies make more than 2000 IU after being in the sun for 10-15 minutes. These realities make the current RDA look ridiculously low.

If a study like this came out regarding a drug, you can be it would be hailed the miracle drug of the decade. Instead, it is just lowly Vitamin D that is working these wonders. Heck, it is available for free most of the year just by going outside…perhaps an impressive irony given the amount of money spent each year researching cancer treatments and paying for them.

More on Vitamin D and H1N1 Swine Flu

hill horizon

Vitamin D and its relationship to influenza is much-discussed recently, and is a connection I find interesting. Lately, the Vitamin D Council, led by Dr. John Cannell, has been trying to determine if there is a connection between H1N1 and Vitamin D. Just because it appears that a connection exists between seasonal flu and Vitamin D does not mean Vitamin D prevents the pandemic flu.

Recently, Cannell sent out two emails that explain the experiences that two doctors have had with Vitamin D and H1N1. Both emails, summarized here, suggest that Vitamin D helps prevent the current strain of H1N1. Of course, these case studies are not conclusive and definitive, but they are interesting early research that should be investigated further (also, since Vitamin D is cheap, and many of us are deficient, upping our Vitamin D levels is a good idea even if it doesn’t prevent pandemic influenza.

The first case involves nursing home patients receiving regular Vitamin D supplementation. 103 of the 800 staff members working at the home contracted H1N1, while only 2 of 275 residents did. Even excluding 43 staff members whose diagnosis may be suspect, the difference between the flu rates among staff and residents is statistically significant, i.e., it is very likely this was not due to chance. Less than 1% of residents became sick, while 7.5% of the staff did, which was a tenfold increase in infections among the group not definitively taking Vitamin D.

The second case comes from a doctor in Wisconsin. This doctor regularly monitors Vitamin D levels in her patients, and makes sure their levels are high. She has seen no cases of flu yet, whereas her colleague, who does not monitor Vitamin D, is seeing 1-10 cases of flu-like illness a week. Anecdotal? yes. However, it does provide food-for-thought.

I know I talk about Vitamin D a lot. There is a reason. Humans are supposed to get regular sun exposure, period. It is, and has been, the common experience of mankind since our inception. Could it be that many of our diseases are the result of living in a way that defies our very nature, i.e. are we inside too much? Vitamin D is not a miracle drug, no more than oxygen would be a miracle drug in a world in which most people denied themselves optimal levels of it. Sun exposure is a basic part of living optimally as a human, so it is no puzzle as to why modern Westerners are so depressed and sick.

Fortunately, even in times when the sun is weak (the late fall, winter, and early spring), Vitamin D is cheap and readily available. Right now, for example, Swanson Vitamins is running a sale, in which 500 capsules of 1000 IU/cap Vitamin are only $5.79. That is a 100 day supply of the amount Cannell recommends taking,  5000 IU/day (in conjunction with a Vitamin D blood test). Considering many drugs cost this much per pill, Vitamin D is cheap.

Image taken  by me

Fighting the Coming Winter Blues

flower in vase

Fall is a good time for many of us, since we associate the season with holidays (such as Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Advent), chilly nights at football games, campfires, and good food. However, for others, the beginning of fall signals the coming winter, and with it, the winter blues, given the name “Seasonal Affective Disorder,” appropriately abbreviated SAD.

There are ways to fight back. I have suffered from mild SAD in the past, and I am more likely to get “down” in the winter. Since I have become very active in the summers, I have generally dreaded winters. However, last winter was a notable exception, and it was a long, cold, winter to boot, so I was doing something right. One of the things I was doing was getting sunshine whenever possible. Every morning at school, I would go to window of my room, and just “take in” the strong sunlight for a few minutes.  I also made sure I got outside if possible. Usually we get some freak warm days in the winter months, and you can bet I am outside, and the windows of the house are open to air it out (again, if it’s possible). Using this strategy (among others, which I’ll share in the future), I avoided any trace of the “winter blues.”

Science backs me up on this. I came across a study that connected serotonin levels in the brain to sunlight. Sunlight raises serotonin levels, while lack of it lowers serotonin levels. This could explain why a) people get more down in the winter, and b) why people who spend a lot of time indoors, even in the summer, often suffer from depression.

It’s not winter yet; heck, it’s not even autumn, but now is a good time to start thinking about strategies to deal with the coming winter blues and blahs.

Vitamin D and H1N1 Swine Flu

I have been intrigued by research about the relationship between Vitamin D and influenza, so I often wondered how this relationship could stand the scientific scrutiny of events associated with the 1918 flu pandemic, where individuals with presumably the highest Vitamin D levels (young people) died readily, while those who likely had low levels (African-Americans) lived. Dr. Cannell of the Vitamin D Council recently addressed this issue in the newest Council newsletter.

Cannell argues that the reason so many with low Vitamin D levels survived the worst outbreak of the 1918 flu is that they became relatively immune because many were infected earlier by a weaker, less deadly, strain. In other words, their low Vitamin D levels (hence, a lower resistance to the flu) was beneficial because they got sick from the milder, earlier, form of the 1918 flu. Interesting.

Cannell also examines the relationship of current H1N1 deaths to Vitamin D, and concludes that the majority of children who have died so far are likely Vitamin Deficient. He argues that since 2/3 of those who died had neuro-developmental conditions like epilepsy or mental retardation, they most likely spent little time in the sun, and when they did, were probably covered with sunblock. Many also probably took medications that caused a deficiency of Vitamin D. Cannell also observes that in Boston and Chicago, research shows that African-Americans have been hospitalized more for H1N1 than other races. Again, he takes this as evidence of a Vitamin D connection to the current Swine flu (because darker skinned individuals require more sun exposure to make Vitamin D, which is not a problem for those living close to the equator, but darker skinned individuals in most parts of North America are often deficient).

This is all intriguing. I can say that since I have taken higher doses of Vitamin D in the winter (anywhere from 1000-3000 IU/day), I haven’t gotten the flu. Last year I didn’t get the flu shot either. This, of course, proves nothig in a strict scientific sense, since I am but one case, and since my healthy lifestyle offers protection against the flu as well, but since I am convinced Vitamin D is beneficial in other areas of my life, I will continue to take it, hoping it also helps my body defend against a possible H1N1 innfection.

Frugality is the New Normal

Being frugal is the new normal, as it is estimated that even after the recession is over, Americans will return to spending 86% of what they did prior to the downturn. While this has ominous economic implications, I don’t see it as a bad thing necessarily. The bubble economies we have experienced over the last decade (the tech-bubble, housing bubble, etc) have not been good for the long-term economy, and if we can become an economy that grows steadily based on innovation and hard work, as opposed to growing because of reckless spending, then I am on board.

My wife and I have been frugal since our marriage, and really, since we have dated. Why? Well, I have a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Master’s degree in religion, so it should come as no surprise that my income is not exactly six-figures. We have had to be frugal. Plus, for me it is a philosophical issue. Because I am independent and conservative, I don’t think the government should be bailing me out, and I believe that I should fix my own problems. I also think that outrageously high energy and other commodity prices are bad for our country for a variety of reasons, and I think conserving energy (which also saves me money) is essential for the common good. I am an old-fashioned conservative who has thought for years that the materialistic, “spend-what-you-don’t-have” lifestyle, is neither good for our country nor good for the individual. Thus, I go to extremes to keep my family costs down. I have spoken of this before and provided savings tips.

I am glad being frugal is the new normal. I don’t want to sound judgmental, but how in the world did spending money you don’t have for things you don’t need, or even want, ever become  “normal” to begin with?