High Fives: Our Take On Vitamin D3 Was Justified

newlightIRSMOnce in every little while, I read something that reassures me I am still cooking with gas when it comes to connecting the dots, figuring out what might help our guys stay just a bit healthier over the long haul. For several years now I have been preaching the importance of Vitamin D3: Essential for Health . Now you don’t have to take just my word for it, Mayo Clinic reports the results of a large study which concurs with my take on it.

It is hard to get sufficient amount of vitamin D3 just from the foods we eat.  Milk in developed countries is fortified with small amounts of it, but few adults drink sufficient milk to get enough vitamin D3 by that route. Over many millennia, our distant ancestors learned to synthesize this important vitamin from raw materials in their bodies and one other crucial ingredient: sunlight.  As you can imagine, running around the plains of Africa hunting wild animals for food with little by way of clothing meant plenty of sunlight exposure. Our ancestors did not suffer from vitamin D3 deficiency!

So what’s wrong with a little bit of sunbathing, you ask.

Well, it would work fine in terms of getting your vitamin d3 levels up, no question about it. Problem is that at the same time it may also increase your risks of skin cancer.   I hope you know by now that skin cancers (squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma and melanoma) are all a whole lot more dangerous when they occur in immune compromised hosts such as CLL patients. I know there are a lot of ill-informed shamans and cancer “gurus” out there that prove their contrarian street creds by suggesting sun-bathing as a way of improving your health.  I strongly urge you not to buy into that nonsense.  Skin cancer is directly linked to excessive uv-exposure, which in turn means excessive sun exposure (or tanning beds, if you are vain enough to think that is the way to look sexy!)  is not good for you. Skin cancer is the single most common secondary cancer in CLL patients. You are smart to avoid this risk to the extent that you can.  Case closed.

Anecdotal Stories Painted an Interesting Picture

I got interested in this whole business of vitamin D3 and CLL after tracking anecdotal stories from several of our members who live in the frozen tundras of Minnesota, Nebraska etc.  As any sensible person would do given the chance, these guys went down to sunny Florida or Arizona over the winter.  And along with the rest of the “snow birds” visiting warmer and sunnier places, many of them spent hours basking in the sun, playing golf, fishing, sailing etc. Here is the interesting bit: often they noticed that their CLL seemed to slow down a bit while they were having fun out in the sun. Their inexorable upward climb in lymphocyte counts took a breather, their lymph nodes became squishy and indolent.  Sure, many of them also got bad cases of sun burn and there were the invariable cases of SCC and BCC that had to be treated later on. A mixed blessing, as it were, and not somethng I would recommend.

As a consequence of these anecdotal stories I got interested in disease epidemiology. A number of cancers and autoimmune diseases (Multiple scelrosis is one of them) are much more prevalent in northern climates where there is not much chance of sun exposure over the long winter months.  I cannot take credit for this observation, I am not the first one to notice the possible link between lack of sun exposure, vitamin D3 insufficiency and a variety of illnesses. Other researchers have spotted the connection long before I got interested in it. Cancer is one of the diseases that seems to thrive when there is little sunlight. The latest results from Mayo confirm what I have suspected all along, there is a link between vitamin D3 insufficiency and B-cell cancers.

What do you think guys, should I get me a crystal ball and hang out a shingle as a prescient cancer healer? (Not!)

To cut to the chase

We need to make sure we are not deficient in this very important vitamin.  These days doctors can do a simple blood test to check for it.  If you are a tad low on vitamin D3 (the Mayo press release below gives you the levels you should shoot for), you should ask your doctor about putting you on a vitamin D3 supplement and monitor you until your levels are up to par.  You can buy vitamin D3 (“cholecalciferol“) capsules over the counter, no prescription needed, at very reasonable prices. The solution to this particular problem is not increasing your UV and sun exposure – that is an unacceptable route since it increases your risk of skin cancer.  For a change, the solution lies in swallowing a daily capsule of the stuff and making sure your doctor is monitoring your levels while you do it.

Without further preening of my ego, here is the breaking news from Mayo researchers.  I suggest you click on the link and watch their YouTube video footage as well.

Vitamin D Associated with Survival in Lymphoma Patients

A new study has found that the amount of vitamin D in patients being treated for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma was strongly associated with cancer progression and overall survival. The results will be presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology in New Orleans.

“These are some of the strongest findings yet between vitamin D and cancer outcome,” says the study’s lead investigator, Matthew Drake, M.D., Ph.D., an endocrinologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “While these findings are very provocative, they are preliminary and need to be validated in other studies. However, they raise the issue of whether vitamin D supplementation might aid in treatment for this malignancy, and thus should stimulate much more research.”

The researchers’ study of 374 newly diagnosed diffuse large B-cell lymphoma patients found that 50 percent had deficient vitamin D levels based on the commonly used clinical value of total serum 25(OH)D less than 25 ng/mL. Patients with deficient vitamin D levels had a 1.5-fold greater risk of disease progression and a twofold greater risk of dying, compared to patients with optimal vitamin D levels after accounting for other patient factors associated with worse outcomes.

The study was conducted by a team of researchers from Mayo Clinic and the University of Iowa. These researchers participate in the University of Iowa/Mayo Clinic Lymphoma Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE), which is funded by the National Cancer Institute. The 374 patients were enrolled in an epidemiologic study designed to identify predictors of outcomes in lymphoma. Since this was not a clinical trial, patient management and treatments were not assigned, but rather followed standard of care for clinical practice.

The findings support the growing association between vitamin D and cancer risk and outcomes, and suggest that vitamin D supplements might help even those patients already diagnosed with some forms of cancer, says Dr. Drake. “The exact roles that vitamin D might play in the initiation or progression of cancer is unknown, but we do know that the vitamin plays a role in regulation of cell growth and death, among other processes important in limiting cancer,” he says.