By Christiane Northrup, MD
There’s a paradigm shift going on in medicine as new research reveals a far greater role for vitamin D. Vitamin D is not just for kids -- or the prevention of rickets. Optimal levels of vitamin D (40–80 ng/ml) enhance the creation and functioning of healthy cells throughout the body. [footnote 1] In addition to protecting the bones and boosting the immune system, studies show that vitamin D helps prevent certain cancers, including breast, ovarian, prostate, and colorectal. [footnote 2, 3, 4, 5] Exciting new research shows that in the U.S. alone, thousands of new cases of breast cancer could be prevented every year if more women had optimal levels of vitamin D. [footnote 6]
A study conducted by Cedric Garland and other prominent vitamin D researchers determined that women with vitamin D levels above 52 ng/ml have half the risk of developing breast cancer as those with 13 ng/ml! [footnote 7] Garland (et al) estimates that 58,000 new cases of breast cancer in the U.S. could be prevented per year by raising vitamin D levels to 52 ng/ml. Imagine what the global impact could be!
A simple blood test is all that’s needed to find out your vitamin D level. Five years ago, a range of 20–100 ng/ml was considered normal. Just recently, this range was raised to 32–100 ng/ml. I recommend keeping blood levels of vitamin D at 52–100 ng/ml. Make sure to ask your healthcare provider what your actual vitamin D level is. Too often women are told that their levels are normal, which is not the same as optimal.
If you’re deficient, the best way to boost your vitamin D quickly is to supplement with vitamin D-3. Initially, you may need to take 5,000 IUs per day. After establishing a healthy level, I recommend supplementing with 1,000–2,000 IUs per day -- it’s hard to get all you need from food. Some healthy fish provides 300–700 IUs, but milk only provides 100 IUs per glass.
You may be surprised to learn that the sun is actually the best source of vitamin D. The sun’s UVB rays enable our bodies to manufacture vitamin D in the fat layer under the skin, as long as we don’t use sunscreen. The body can make enough vitamin D from sun exposure to last the entire year! And it will never create toxic levels, regardless of how long you expose your skin. Although we are taught to fear the sun, sunbathing in moderation -- exposing but never burning the skin -- is good for us. This may explain why the incidence of breast cancer is higher in northern latitudes than at the equator.
I encourage every woman to check her vitamin D level regularly and keep it in the optimal range. This is easily done by supplementing with about 2,000 IUs of vitamin D-3 per day and getting regular, safe sun exposure. Your breasts and your entire body will benefit. This is preventive medicine at its finest.
This information is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.
All material in this article is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise, or other health program.
1. Staud, R., 2005. Vitamin D: more than just affecting calcium and bone. Curr Rheumatol Rep, Oct;7(5):356-64.
2. Staud, R., 2005. Vitamin D: more than just affecting calcium and bone. Curr Rheumatol Rep, Oct;7(5):356-64.
3. Cannell, J.J., Hollis, B.W. 2008. Use of vitamin D in clinical practice, Altern Med Rev, Mar;13(1):6-20.
4. Cannell, J.J., et al. 2008. On the epidemiology of influenza, Virol J, Feb 25;5:29.
5. Holick, M.F. 2004. Vitamin D: importance in the prevention of cancers, type 1 diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis, Am J Clin Nutr, 79:362-71.
6. Garland, C.F., et al. 2009 Vitamin D for cancer prevention: global perspective, Ann Epidemiol. Jul;19(7):468-83.
7. Garland, C.F., et al. 2007. Vitamin D and prevention of breast cancer: pooled analysis., J Steroid Biochem Mol BiolMar;103(3-5):708-11.
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Christiane Northrup, M.D., a board-certified ob/gyn, is a visionary pioneer, beloved authority in women’s health and wellness, and the author of the ground breaking New York Times bestsellers Women's Bodies, Women’s Wisdom and The Wisdom of Menopause. Her third book, Mother-Daughter Wisdom, was voted Amazon’s #1 book of the 2005 (in two categories). Her latest books, The Secret Pleasures of Menopause and The Secret Pleasures of Menopause Playbook, teach how to experience joy, pleasure, prosperity, fulfillment, and vibrant health.
Following a 25-year career in both academic medicine and private practice, Dr. Northrup now devotes her time to helping women truly flourish on all levels through tapping into their inner wisdom.
Through her exclusive Women’s Wisdom Circle, Dr. Northrup shares cutting-edge medical and lifestyle advice. For more information about Dr. Northrup and her Wisdom Circle go to www.DrNorthrup.com.