Life Extension Magazine

Life Extension Magazine October 2007

As We See It

Should the President Declare a National Emergency?

By William Faloon

 
William Faloon

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. In response to this attack, President Roosevelt declared an emergency and committed every national resource to supporting the war effort.

Another significant event occurred in 1941, but no government response was generated. The result of this oversight is that at least twelve times more Americans have died than all the US soldiers killed in World War II.

This historic 1941 discovery has been confirmed by recent human studies. It would thus seem appropriate for today’s President to hold a news conference announcing a simple step that every American should take to drastically cut their risk of dying from age-related diseases.

When adding up the lives that could be spared, the numbers are staggering. For cancer alone, 275,000 American lives could be saved each year if a nationwide program was implemented.

When one considers how much money the government spends to protect against real and imaginary events, the cost of implementing this program would be trivial.

Where You Live Affects Your Cancer Risk

In 1941, the first scientific study was published showing that greater sunlight exposure resulted in lower cancer mortality.1 People living in northern

latitudes were shown to contract more cancers than those in southern latitudes, where there is greater year-round sun exposure.

Researchers subsequently identified vitamin D as the cancer-protective factor generated from sunlight.2-6 Published scientific studies have shown cancer risk reductions of 50% and more based on higher vitamin D status.7-13

In all, we have identified 89 studies that describe how greater vitamin D levels reduce cancers of the breast, prostate, colon, esophagus, pancreas, ovary, rectum, bladder, kidney, lung and uterus, as well as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma.7-96

What has been lacking up until now, however, has been a double-blind, placebo-controlled study (with strong adherence levels) that specifically measured the effects of higher-dose vitamin D (with calcium) on cancer incidence.

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Publishes Breakthrough Study

In a report published this year, the effect of administering 1,000 IU/day of vitamin D (with calcium) was evaluated in 1,180 postmenopausal women living in the Midwest.97

Unlike some recent flawed studies, the researchers took extraordinary steps to ensure that study participants were really taking their supplements and that all other variables were tightly controlled. After only four years, the risk of contracting any cancer was 60% lower in the vitamin D (and calcium) group compared with the placebo arm of the study.

The scientists then performed an even more detailed analysis of the data. By excluding cancers diagnosed in the first year of the study, which would have included cancers present when participants began taking vitamin D, they found an astounding 77% reduction in cancer incidence in the group receiving vitamin D compared with placebo.97 (Interestingly, in a third arm of this study in which the participants received calcium but no vitamin D, the cancer risk reductions were not as significant.)

What this means is that if all Americans began taking just 1,000 IU of vitamin D each day (with calcium), as many as three-quarters of all cancers could be prevented in just four years. The significance of this is such that a national emergency should be called to urge or mandate that all Americans over age 30 take at least 1,000 IU of vitamin D each day. There may not be a better example of what the federal government could do to save American lives than ensuring optimal vitamin D status in all citizens.

New findings show that children could also greatly benefit by supplementing with higher doses of vitamin D.98-111

How Vitamin D Prevents Cancer

Cancer has been defined as the “accumulation of mutations in genes that regulate cellular proliferation.” Once genes that regulate cell division mutate, normal cells can turn into cancer cells.

Vitamin D has an effect on at least 200 human genes.98 Many of these genes are responsible for regulating cell proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis. In the next column are simple definitions of these cellular processes:

Proliferation: Uncontrolled cell division (cancer cells are characterized by rapid and uncontrolled division).

Differentiation: Process that cells undergo to mature into normal cells (uncontrolled reproduction of immature [undifferentiated] cells is a defining feature of cancer).

Apoptosis: Natural termination of defective cells (cancer cells are resistant to natural destruction, making them difficult to eradicate).

With less than optimal vitamin D status, the genes that regulate the three critical regulatory processes above become defective. These regulatory genes can therefore no longer maintain healthy cellular function (including programmed termination). The result is a sharp increase in cancer risks, as the DNA regulatory genes lack the vitamin D needed to maintain the normal proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis of our cells.

In addition, vitamin D has been shown to help prevent angiogenesis (new blood vessel growth into tumors) and metastasis (spread of cancer).11,51 It is for all these reasons that Life Extension recommended ten years ago that cancer patients take the highest tolerable dose of vitamin D.

Vitamin D Prevents Numerous Other Diseases

If vitamin D only reduced cancer risk, then it would be well worth supplementing with 1,000 IU/day and higher (depending on your level as determined by a blood test).

An abundance of recent studies, however, has uncovered a myriad of other diseases that vitamin D helps prevent.113-146 One interesting report showed that elderly people with higher vitamin D levels suffered far fewer falls and were less frail.147 This finding alone points to potentially huge reductions in nursing home confinements, along with less suffering and mortality, if every American adult took 1,000 IU/day of vitamin D.

Last year, Life Extension reported that the reason more people develop infections in the winter is not because of cold weather.148 Instead, the reduction in sunlight during winter causes a vitamin D deficiency that impairs immune function.149-159 When one considers that 60,000 Americans perish each year from pneumonia-influenza,160 it becomes apparent that maintaining optimal vitamin D could sharply reduce these grim statistics. Not only is vitamin D required for proper immune function, but by preventing falls and bone fractures, fewer elderly people will succumb to pneumonia as a result of being confined to a hospital setting.

Cancer Risk Reduction in Response to Higher Vitamin D Status

Cancer Primary Site

Risk Reduction with
Increased Vitamin D Intake

Breast9

50%

Colon10,62

50%

Prostate4,11

49%

Ovary112

36%

If you’ve ever wondered why so many hospitalized people deteriorate so fast, look no further than the lack of vitamin D that caused their initial problem and the subsequent diminished vitamin D status that occurs in the absence of sunlight in the hospital setting.

Chronic inflammation is an underlying factor in the development of numerous age-related diseases. Vitamin D has been shown to suppress pro-inflammatory cytokines and protect against conditions ranging from rheumatoid arthritis, chronic muscle pain, and metabolic syndrome to congestive heart failure and stroke.161-169

Furthermore, those living in higher latitudes contract multiple sclerosis at far higher rates than those who obtain more sunshine throughout the year.138 Scientists have identified specific vitamin D receptors in the white matter of the brain, which may die prematurely in early life if given inadequate vitamin D (resulting in multiple sclerosis).139

So for a nutrient that was once thought to only protect against osteoporosis, vitamin D has emerged as a superstar, which may sharply reduce the risk of most age-related diseases.

When looking at all the different lethal diseases that vitamin D has been shown to prevent, hundreds of thousands of lives could be spared each year if every American supplemented with at least 1,000 IU of vitamin D each day. This is why this issue deserves “national emergency” status.

A Historical Precedent for Issuing a National Emergency

Polio was one of the most feared diseases in the first part of the 20th century. The polio virus often attacked children, sometimes leaving them walking on crutches, confined to iron lungs because of pulmonary paralysis, or dead!

Dr. Jonas Salk discovered the polio vaccine in 1952. Two years later, a clinical trial was conducted whose scope was unprecedented in medical history. The results were dramatic. Within two hours of announcing the successful clinical trials, the vaccine was licensed for use. Thanks to guarantees from what is now the March of Dimes, vaccine production facilities were already built and ready to operate. In 1955, the vaccine was distributed to children throughout America.

In 1952, there were 58,000 cases of polio in the United States—the most ever. By 1964, there were only 121 cases reported. The last case of acquired polio occurred in the United States in 1979.170

How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?

Vitamin D status can be assessed by having one’s blood tested. Optimal levels are considered to be in the range of 30-50 ng/mL (75-125 nmol/L) of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in the blood.

A meticulous study in a group of men to determine how much orally supplemented vitamin D is required to increase vitamin D blood levels revealed the following data over an eight-week time period:172

Daily dose of vitamin D

Increases blood levels by:

1,000 IU

11.6 ng/mL

10,000 IU

58.5 ng/mL

50,000 IU

257.6 ng/mL

Based on the above findings, ideal daily intake of vitamin D ranges between 1,000 IU and 4,000 IU, depending on one’s baseline value. Those who receive less sun exposure would be expected to have lower baseline levels. (Note that vitamin D toxicity does not occur until blood levels of 150 ng/mL are reached, with doses of more than 50,000 IU vitamin D daily, so doses of up to 10,000 IU/day would appear to be safe for most people.)98

An interesting finding from this study was the significant individual dose response variability. It turned out that body mass index (BMI) accounted for more than 90% of the dose response variance. What this means is that larger, heavier people need lots more vitamin D than smaller, thinner people in order to achieve optimal vitamin D status.

One strategy to consider is to achieve a serum vitamin D (25-hydroxyvitamin D) level of around 60 ng/mL, which is approximately the level of serum vitamin D achieved by young adults in the summer months.173 A 154-pound (70 kg) subject with a baseline vitamin D of 20 ng/mL would thus require about 5,000 IU of vitamin D to increase their blood levels to the desired 60 ng/mL.

Many key players were involved in successfully eradicating the polio virus, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was instrumental in establishing the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (known today as the March of Dimes).

There is a clear precedent for the federal government to treat today’s epidemic deficiency of vitamin D as a health crisis emergency and take affirmative steps to ensure that every American achieves optimal vitamin D status, just as was done with the polio vaccine in 1955.

The reduction in human misery and number of lives saved if all Americans achieved adequate vitamin D status would exceed those saved by the polio vaccine.

Sun Exposure Does Not Guarantee Optimal Vitamin D Levels

A new study reveals vitamin D levels can remain low in some people despite abundant exposure to sunlight.171

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin investigated the vitamin D status of people living in sun-drenched Hawaii. The participants in the study had a mean of 11.1 hours per week of total body skin exposure with no sunscreen used.

Despite this abundant sun exposure, 51% of these individuals were found to have low vitamin D levels. The research team concluded that it should not be assumed abundant sun exposure leads to adequate vitamin D status.

This finding corroborates previous research showing that as we age, our ability to use sunlight to convert vitamin D in the skin becomes significantly diminished, thus necessitating oral supplementation.