What’s all the Fuss about Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is important for good healthy bones. It is also thought to play other roles in helping the immune and nervous systems function properly.
Most of your Vitamin D is made when you are exposed to sunlight (90%). There is a smaller amount which is contained in foods such as eggs, oily fish and some milk. Food sources alone, without skin exposure, would not be enough to provide the recommended amount of vitamin D.
There is now some research that shows that women with low Vitamin D levels are at increased risk of breast cancer. This is thought to be because it plays a role in controlling normal breast cell growth. (Vitamin D and Breast Cancer: Latest Evidence and Future Steps, Atoum M, Alzoughool F, Sage Journals, Vol 11, published online Dec 2017)
The two main ways to increase your Vitamin D levels are by getting more direct sunlight and by taking Vitamin supplements. You can of course also eat Vitamin D containing foods but the absorption is not quite so great. Vitamin D supplementation is contraindicated in patients with bony spread of their cancer as vitamin D will also affect calcium levels.
Only relatively short amounts of sunshine exposure are needed to obtain the necessary levels of Vitamin D – 15 minutes 3 or 4 times a week should be plenty. But this will vary dependent on skin colour. It is recognised that in the UK vitamin D levels between October and April are suboptimal.
The downside of exposing your skin to sunlight is obviously the risk of skin cancer – Melanomas, Squamous cell cancers and Basal cell cancers. This means you need to take a sensible approach –
Protect your skin with a high SPF factor when the sun is at its strongest.
Choose your timing – midday sun is potentially stronger and more damaging. Don’t forget you will be exposed to UV rays even when you don’t realise it.
Be aware that some medication, including chemotherapy drugs make the skin much more sensitive to sunlight – another reason to avoid the hottest times of day.
Eat Your Vitamin D
Vitamin D is present in oily fish eg – mackerel, sardines, salmon and herring.
Some dairy products are fortified with vitamin D eg – milk, yoghurt and soy milk
It is in cheese and egg yolks, red meat and breakfast cereals.
As mentioned this should be avoided if you have bony cancer.
Vitamin D deficiency and its treatment is a big subject in its own right and is not dealt with here.
You may have your vitamin D level measured by your oncologist who can then decide whether or not you would benefit from taking supplementation. As with lots of cancer related treatments be guided by your oncologist’s recommendations. Your consultant and their team know your case and will be able to advise what is best and necessary for you.