It’s no secret — we know from repeated research that low or inadequate levels of vitamin D have been connected with poorer survival in breast cancer (and in other cancers.) But the reverse is equally well known: Vitamin D has valuable functions in the body that contribute to better survival and enhanced health. In vitamin D’s active form (1) it promotes apoptosis or the dying-off of malignant cells; (2) it stops the growth of abnormal blood vessels that feed tumors; (3) and it delivers anti-inflammatory benefits in the tumor’s microenvironment. Vitamin D may inhibit the problematic enzyme aromatase which is the target of specific medications (aromatase inhibitors) given to estrogen-positive breast cancer patients. Plus, it even reduced breast cancer metastases in animal studies — critical since metastasis can definitely shorten life for people with cancer.
Yet, a question arises from all of this knowledge: What is the level of vitamin D needed to produce a beneficial effect on breast cancer survival? Medical experts usually say that 20-50 ng/ml of vitamin D is sufficient for the general population, but at the Block Center we aim for higher levels — from 50 to 85 ng/ml.
A recent article in the journal Integrative Cancer Therapies analyzed six studies that examined the correlation of vitamin D levels in breast cancer patients with actual survival. The researchers were able to sort out reductions in mortality for specific vitamin D levels at the higher end of the spectrum. The six studies together included nearly 6000 patients in Canada, Norway, the US and Germany – all countries where getting enough vitamin D from sun exposure, particularly during long darker months, is an immense challenge.
This study documented a significant reduction in relative mortality — ranging from the lowest level all the way up to 180 ng/ml. For example, levels of 68, 78 and 83 ng/ml were linked to reductions in mortality of 6%, 12% and 14% respectively. In fact, it seems that, up to a certain point, the higher the vitamin D level reached, the longer those patients survived!
But there is a “too much” for this micronutrient. That is, it’s ill-advised to let vitamin D reach excessive levels, meaning above 100 ng/ml. Very elevated levels can lead to vitamin D toxicity, result in dangerously high calcium in the blood, poor appetite, nausea and vomiting or kidney problems.
At the Block Center we regularly evaluate our patients’ vitamin D levels. Our registered dietitians and medical team can guide you in reaching and maintaining a vitamin D level that can support your cancer recovery or help sustain your ongoing remission, and, of course, your genuine health through supplementation or careful sun exposure. Call us at 847-492-3040 or 1-877-41-BLOCK if you would like to learn more about your personal vitamin D status.