Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Vitamin D and melanoma

In response to my last post, both Jem and Oak asked the very relevant question about how one treads the fine line between getting Vitamin D from the natural source (the sun) when you are at risk for melanoma.

I think the first question one should ask is, do I have an elevated melanoma risk?  I should add, from those discussed in the link, the strongest is a family history of melanoma.. If you do have elevated risk, then yes, you should be very careful and avoid the sun. I would look into what is IN the sunscreen you use though-quite a few products are filled with carcinogenic crap. I highly recommend using the cosmetic database to see which brands are safest.

Also, another interesting thing - a lot of studies show that a Vitamin D deficiency seems to provide higher risk for multiple cancers, including melanoma.So its kind of a vicious cycle if you think about it. IMO, it provides a great explanation for why the melanoma risk is surprisingly high in the black population.

People with melanoma risk factors should be definitely advised to minimize their UV exposure and get their vitamin D through supplements.

However, I don't think advocating it for the entire population, on a constant basis, is that great an idea. If you are going to spend 5 hours on the beach, yeah, sunscreen is a good idea, but all the time you step out? Let me put it this way, everybody needs vitamin D, but only a subset of the population is at increased risk for melanoma.

But I digress--my post was not an advocation of going sunscreen-free as it was an essay on how such a large proportion of the population has come to be Vitamin D-deficient and the many, many dangers of it.  A Vitamin D-deficient mother is herself at risk for pregnancy complications, postpartum depression etc, and her child is at an increased risk for autism,schizophrenia, depression, cognitive disadvantages, diabetes, autoimmune disease, fibromyalgia, various cancers---its freaking scary!!!!

The moral of the story really was, it is very hard to get enough vitamin D from sun exposure in our modern day lifestyle---so check your D levels and supplement if you have to. Although I advocate trying to spend more time in the sun if you do not have melanoma risk (mostly because its what mother nature wanted us to do and our constant deviation from her set plan sometimes ends up being really bad), its amazing how many people who actually get a decent amount of time in the sun ARE deficient and end up supplementing. For many of us, there is no way out, and so far, nobody has been able to come up with any data showing taking  around  2000-4000 IU Vit D daily may be bad for you.


  1. Jem, I continue to be a big fan of your blog. At your suggestion, I had my vitamin D levels checked and got a call from my Dr.'s office last week to say that despite spending a whole week in Cuba and supplementing with 2000 IUs each day for the last 2 months, my levels were still low. As I contemplate further attempts at pregnancy, I consider your advice of increasing my vitamin D intake a very useful one. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  2. You are welcome, so glad I could help!  Its not too surprising that you were deficient after a dose of 2000 IU daily, I had that problem myself, but it does amaze me that it came on the heels of your Cuba trip. I'm assuming you got a lot of sun time there. People are *supposed* to make massive amounts with sun exposure for even 2 hours, when there is enough skin exposed!  But I've seen others describe this, where they thought they were getting good sun exposure daily, and were found to be deficient.

     In my family itself, with all us getting varying amounts of sun exposure, we were uniformly deficient. All of this makes me think there are probably genetic variations in the population with regard to the ability of synthesizing and probably even transporting vitamin D around, making supplementation the only choice.  I now take 4000 IU daily.

  3. Jay: Thanks for addressing the melanoma thing. I'm so glad you are posting about Vit D. It's an important issue. I often point people from other blogs to your blog to help them learn about this issue.

    Augusta: When my levels were low my regular doc prescribed me 50,000 IUI, taken once a week for 4 weeks. That uped me D level back to normal.

  4. I'm a Melanoma survivor and well, this whole post kind of made me feel blank.

    I love that you're advocating people getting checked, but supplementing with vitamins could actually be a bad idea. My oncologists have both suggested that I got vitamin d the NATURAL way .... and not by sun. They suggested food over vitamins. You can actually have TOO much vitamin d and that, in essence, is almost as bad as not having enough.

    Also, whether or not you're at a risk for Melanoma -- you should NEVER sunbathe or "enjoy a few hours of sun". That's pretty much one of the worst ideas a person can have. 

    Again, I appreciate that you've taken the time to raise some sort of awareness in the risk of Melanoma/Vitamin D deficiency and I'm sorry to leave this on your blog.

    Best wishes and I'd recommend asking an oncologist their opinion on vitamin d supplements and too much in your body!

  5. I think the part you don't really understand is that most food sources, other than fish, contain almost negligible amounts of vitamin D. Eggs, for example, contain 3 IU/gram.  Even fish does not contain too much (only around 100 IU/ounce) and even that, you cannot consume giant quantities of, given fears of heavy metal contamination, especially during pregnancy.

    If one were to avoid sunshine, not take supplements, and just try to get it through fish, eggs and milk, you would be almost definitely deficient, and be at a high risk for metal health issues, immune issues AND cancer. Moreover, if once is concerned with getting it 'naturally' then fortified foods hardly count. Fortification means instead of putting the chemically synthesized Vitamin D3 in a capsule, they just put it in the food.

    It completely amazes me that ANY doctor would suggest getting adequate levels vitamin D solely through food, its simply not possible. It may be possible for other Vitamins, like A and maybe E, but definitely not Vitamin D.

    I do not advocate that anybody consumes big doses of vitamin D without getting their blood levels checked both before and after supplementation btw. There is a good blood level where your risk of most diseases is reduced and one should try to attain that.

    I also quite disagree with your assessment that everybody should completely avoid the sun(though I understand your fear given your melanoma history), though I never said that one should sunbathe for several hours without sunscreen, during periods of intense sun exposure, I would totally recommend it and I have said so above.

    You really should google vitamin D deficiency and cancer risk and see what you find,  most studies show that the vast majority of cancer patients are vitamin D3 deficient and this leaves them at higher risk for cancer and with weakened immune systems, its a double whammy.

  6. You are welcome. I'm glad you and Oak got that point up. As an Indian I don't even think about melanoma risk, but it was very interesting to see both black and latino populations have a heightened risk. From everything I ever read, it does not seem to be a significant issue with people of indian ethnic origin- there are other genes that predispose, maybe the indian gene pool is missing those.

    God knows though, we have the vitamin D deficiency, but with that, all we get is type 2 Diabetes (which is endemic)  and heart disease.

  7. Checkmark for melanoma (stage 0) at 35. Dad diagnosed at stage 3 in his mid 60's. I have shunned the sun ritually since my 20's, but was a typical So Cal kid before that. I am riveted here, so looking forward to the trilogy!

  8. I think it's sound advice. I also think it's a baby-bath water situation. You're not advocating cooking under the sun - that would obviously be bad. But a little exposure to the sun - dependent on other factors such as previous melanomas or predisposition - is not a bad thing. Going overboard one way or another is not a good thing.