Different supplements and vitamins tend to take turns in the spotlight to highlight their purported health-promoting properties. Recently, vitamin D has taken center stage in the scientific community, particularly for its superpower-esque ability to increase strength and lower the risk of two types of cancer.
First things first: Nearly half of Americans are deficient in vitamin D, and there’s controversy about the healthiest way to soak up the stuff from the sun. New York-based dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, for one, says not to sunbathe, “as the risk associated with UV light exposure outweighs any perceived benefits.” Instead he recommends to “look to vitamin D–fortified foods, including milk or supplements.” Echoing Dr. Zeichner’s advice is Urban Remedy founder Neka Pasquale, L.Ac, MS, who tells me that common diet plans don’t supply sufficient levels of the vitamin, so a supplement is a smart alternative. To help your body more effectively absorb it, she suggests pairing it with a healthy dose of magnesium.
Common diet plans don’t supply sufficient levels of vitamin D, so a supplement is a smart alternative. A healthy dose of magnesium can help the body better absorb the vitamin. —Neka Pasquale, Urban Remedy founder
Still, Pasquale, an herbalist, notes that “too much vitamin D, like anything, is not good.” In fact, studies have found that excess amounts can put you at risk of things like increased fractures, nausea, and even kidney failure and bone loss. Since the optimal amount of vitamin D differs from person to person, it’s important to visit a doctor who can do a blood test to determine both your current level and what it should be, Pasquale says.
Want more evidence that you need to prioritize your vitamin D devotion? In the past month, three studies have emerged promoting its potentially cancer-combatting powers. Check out the new findings below.
The vitamin associated with strength in young girls
In a new study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, researchers asked 499 children to take standardized tests for hand grip (to check their muscle strength) and also measured their vitamin D levels. The results showed that vitamin D had a connection with strength—but only for girls, not boys, which the study could not explain.
Girls who had low levels of vitamin D were 70 percent more likely to be in the lowest-performing 10 percent of the muscle-strength test, a press release reports. Though researchers couldn’t establish that low vitamin D levels caused low muscular development, they were able to learn that the vitamin D levels of the mother during pregnancy had no effect on the girls’ musculature—it’s what happens after birth in the girls’ bodies that matters.
It could be crucial to lowering risks of breast cancer
Using a combination of two randomized clinical trials with a total of more than 3,000 participants, a study recently published in PLOS One found that women’s risk of breast cancer declined when they had higher levels of vitamin D.
In these trials, using data from 2002 to 2017, the researchers examined women age 55 or older (average age was 63) who were cancer-free at the start of the study. The women underwent blood tests to measure their vitamin D levels. Overall, 77 new incidences of breast cancer were discovered during the trial, which helped the researchers to identify a relationship between low vitamin D levels and higher risk of breast cancer.
There are caveats to this study, however: The number of women diagnosed was quite low, it’s not clear how the participants were identified or chosen for the study, and there’s no causality, meaning that women could have lower levels of vitamin D because of breast cancer rather than the other way around. Still, this study is a step toward continued discoveries and improvement in our understanding of breast cancer.
Vitamin D is linked to lower incidences of another type of cancer, too
Despite a widespread obsession with products and foods that promote gut health, one recent study found that in young people, bowel cancer rates are actually on the rise. And now, a subesquent study identified a connection between low levels of vitamin D and an increased risk of bowel cancer.
The research, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, looked at an amalgamation of 17 previous studies with nearly 13,000 participants from the United States, Europe, and Asia, and found that low levels of vitamin D correlated to a 30 percent increased risk of colorectal cancer, as study co-author Marji McCullough, ScD, a nutritional epidemiologist, explained to NPR. Conversely, people with adequate levels of vitamin D were at a 22 percent lower risk of a bowel-related cancer diagnosis. Although this relationship existed for both men and women, Dr. McCullough says it was especially pronounced for women, which may be a potential side effect of the way the vitamin interacts with gender-specific hormones.
So, after scheduling a trip to your health-care provider, load up on vitamin-D-rich foods, like salmon and mushrooms to keep your levels stable and healthy before you can do a real-deal test to make sure.
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