A researcher at Dalhousie University has claimed that a vitamin D pill could block the development of some cancers, strengthen bones, prevent multiple sclerosis and alleviate winter depression.
Dr. Louise Parker, epidemiologist at Dalhousie University and a world expert in the environmental exposures that can lead to cancer, has recommended Vitamin D pills for individuals living in areas like Canada which do not get much sunlight.
Parker claimed that Vitamin D could become a useful weapon in the fight against MS, osteoporosis, mild depression and one of the most devastating diseases of our time - cancer.
"As time has gone by, Vitamin D has raised its head as a sort of ambrosia for cancers. One of the most important sources of Vitamin D is from the sun and through your skin. Many parts of Canada don't get much sun in the winter. We've also been telling people to cover up and use sunscreen to prevent skin cancer. Sunscreen actually impairs your (skin's ability) to make Vitamin D," said Dr. Parker.
This has led the Canadian Cancer Society to recommend that during the winter, Canadians take at least 1,000 units a day of Vitamin D, dubbed "the sunshine vitamin." The required units can also be contained in a tiny pill that comes in a bottle of 100 tablets ranging from $5 to $10, depending on the brand name.
According to Dr. Parker, 1,000 units a day is well beyond what you can obtain from your diet. Vitamin D is a bit of a rare vitamin, appearing only in fatty fish, cod liver oil and egg yolks. He said that one cannot get the required 1,00 units even if one were to sunbathe in southern climates.
"If you were to lie naked on a beach in the Bahamas, and I don't recommend that because of skin cancer, you cannot get up to the equivalent of 1,000 units of Vitamin D a day," said Dr. Parker.
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and is very important for the human body. On the basis of various studies, Dr.Parker said that people with lung and colon cancer are Vitamin D deficient.
In a study examining whether women who took Vitamin D had a lower risk of osteoporosis, it was found that women taking Vitamin D had stronger bones than those who did not take the vitamin. It was also found that the women who took Vitamin D also had fewer cancers.
Parker said that Vitamin D works in very complicated ways. It changes the way cells work. In fact, there is medical speculation that it may block cancer cell proliferation or improve immune system functions. However, its role is not fully understood.
Lifestyle is also one of the factors that influence the amount of vitamin D taken in the body.
Dr. Parker is looking at how obesity, which we know can cause cancer, and exercise, which we know prevents cancer, could interact with Vitamin D. She describes it as looking for a piece of a jigsaw puzzle.
"At the population level, I am trying to understand how all these things fit together. It's very complex. We know some of the jigsaw pieces, but not all," she said.
In the mean time, there is very little evidence that taking Vitamin D can harm you. Perhaps in huge doses it could cause kidney stones, but that has not been proven.
"On the average, 1,000 units a day is safe and is probably effective in reducing the risk of colon cancer, and maybe other cancers as well," said Dr. Parker.