Vitamin D has shown preventative benefits for many diseases including heart disease and diabetes. There are also some studies that suggest that it may help to reduce the risk of getting certain cancers.
What is vitamin D?
Vitamin D is the name given to a group of fat-soluble prohormones, which are substances that usually have little hormonal activity by themselves, but that the body can turn into hormones.
Vitamin D helps the body use calcium and phosphorous to make strong bones and teeth. Vitamin D deficiency can cause weakening of the bones – rickets, in children and osteomalacia, in adults.
Most people get the vitamin D they require through exposure to the sun.
How does it fight cancer?
Vitamin D’s effects on cancer have been studied extensively and some research (from the American Association for Cancer Research) has shown a link between increased vitamin D intake and reduced risk of breast cancer. It found vitamin D to lower the risk by up to 50 per cent.
A Harvard study also reported that increased intake of vitamin D improved survival rates of lung cancer patients.
Apparently, vitamin D affects the structure of epithelial cells. Without vitamin D, the structure may come apart and these cells go into survival mode – if you have enough vitamin D, epithelial cells remain healthy and it will reduce your chances of cancer.
How do I obtain enough vitamin D?
The best thing about vitamin D is its accessibility. Just 10 minutes in the sun and you can soak up as much as 5,000 IU (International Units) of vitamin D if you expose 40 per cent of your body, without sunscreen. Skin exposed to sunshine can make vitamin D and it can also be obtained from certain foods.
Dietary sources that naturally contain vitamin D include fatty fish, fish liver oil, and eggs. However, most dietary vitamin D comes from foods fortified with it, such as milk, juices and breakfast cereals. Vitamin D can also be obtained through dietary supplements.
However, too much vitamin D can cause a spike in calcium levels, which can lead to calcinosis (the deposit of calcium salts in soft tissues, such as the heart, kidneys, or lungs) and hypercalcemia (high blood levels of calcium).
Toxicity of vitamin D is more likely to occur from excessive intake of dietary supplements.
Too much sun exposure will not cause vitamin D toxicity – but too much sun exposure will increase the risk of skin cancer.
Written by Charmaine Ng
Benefits of vitamin D
Foods with vitamin D
- Activates immune system
- Maintains healthy teeth and bones
- Supports lung function and cardiovascular health
- Regulates insulin levels and aids diabetes management
- Cod liver oil
- Tuna, canned in water, drained
- Portobello mushrooms
- Fortified skimmed milk