Hello Sunshine

Sunshine has been in short supply in the northeast this summer.  When it has shone it’s sunny face, I have returned to a habit of youth; sunbathing.  I grew up in the era of baby oil and Coppertone (remember those ads?).  Just as the generation prior to mine can say they were ignorant of the dangers of smoking, those of us who grew up in the seventies never gave skin cancer or premature aging a thought.

In my mid-twenties, I cut my sun exposure to almost zip.  At the age of thirty, as a by-product of many sunny summers growing up in Colorado, I had a basal cell skin cancer removed from my lower back.  No more “laying out” under the mid-day sun for me.

That is, until this summer.  A combination of “what, me worry?” borne of my terminal cancer status (and you thought there were no perks) as well as a growing awareness of the importance of vitamin D in the fight against cancer.

And now a short commercial break:  I was working on this blog, when I happened to look out the window and noticed this “herd” of dragon flies cruising at a low altitude over our lawn.  Remember the bats and the schools of fish (see Greetings from Austin)?  Here was an opportunity to put myself in the midst of a large group of wild animals!  I booked it to the backyard, located a choice spot, and just stood there.  Momentarily distracted by my arrival, they soon resumed their feeding.  I had dragonflies buzzing all around me!  This is what sustains me, and makes me so unbelievably glad that I’m still at this party.  I tell you, life is so cool!

But I (happily, giddily even) digress.  Back to vitamin D and one of it’s primary sources, the sun.  Several studies in the past few years have correlated higher vitamin D levels with both a reduced risk of lung cancer as well as a greater rate of survival.  Recent research has also shown that lung cancer cells can destroy vitamin D.  So it would seem pretty obvious to me that all of us, and particularly those of us with cancer, should be paying attention to our vitamin D intake.

There are dietary sources of vitamin D:  fish, liver and egg yolks.  However, it is difficult (and possibly unpleasant) to get the suggested daily amount of vitamin D from food alone.  The new recommendations are for a minimum of 1000 IUs (International Units) per day.  A daily supplement is a possible solution, but it is important to remember that ingesting too much vitamin D can be dangerous–so never assume that if some is good, more is better.  The easiest way to achieve optimal levels is to spend 15-20 minutes per day out in the sun before applying sunscreen. According to David Servan-Schreiber, the author of Anti cancer, A New Way of Life,  “…twenty minutes of noon-day sun exposure to the entire body provides between 8,000 and 10,000 IUs”.

Again, moderation is key.  It is not possible to overdose on vitamin D from sunshine, but it is prudent to worry about skin cancer.  No need to prematurely age either:  I worked in a nursing home one summer and one of my jobs was to bathe the elderly residents.  I got to see up close and personal the difference between skin that has seen too much sun and skin which has always been protected, and I can assure you that it is possible to skip the wrinkles almost entirely.

I was curious as to whether or not tanning beds could be a source of vitamin D. The answer is yes, but not a safe source.   It has recently been shown that repeated use of tanning beds before the age of 30 corresponds to a 75% increase in risk of skin cancer.  Time for tanning beds to go the way of leaf blowers (what…we still have leaf blowers?).

I believe a brief daily sun bath is not only the most natural way to take my vitamin D, but also the most pleasant.  And, just like walking, it’s free.  What a perfect world.

5 responses to “Hello Sunshine

  1. Same weather here, summer just arrived and I am sun tanning daily. I got lots of sun half my life until 1972 arriving in Toronto were I was deprived, the sun goes south from October to March. The Canadian cancer society and University of California recommends 2000 IU per day, specially for cancer patients.


    Dragon flies follow insects down before it rains, rain bathing in strong summer showers is great.
    Mind I enjoyed watching grass grow in my back yard after I retired ending the rat race to work.

  2. Guillermo–that was an interesting article–thank you. I have seen a recommendation for 1400 IU vitamin D for cancer patients, but 1000 is the minimum daily requirement. 2000 is considered the highest acceptable amount, (for anyone) and overdosing on vitamin D can be very dangerous. I do take a supplement, but I stick with the 1000 IU and spend some time in the sun as well. Linnea

  3. Linnea:
    Most days I take 2000 IU and sun tan, your numbers are outdated, see full article:

    “The exact long-term safe dose of vitamin D is not known. In 1997 the U.S. Dietary Reference Intake Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) of vitamin D for children and adults was set at 50 micrograms/day (2,000 IU), but this is viewed as outdated and overly restrictive. A 2007 risk assessment suggested that 250 micrograms/day (10,000 IU) in healthy adults should be adopted as the tolerable upper limit.[39] In adults, sustained intake of 2500 micrograms/day (100,000 IU) can produce toxicity within a few months.[2] For infants (birth to 12 months) the tolerable UL is set at 25 micrograms/day (1000 IU), and vitamin D concentrations of 1000 micrograms/day (40,000 IU) in infants has been shown to produce toxicity within 1 to 4 months. Other sources indicate that the threshold for vitamin D toxicity in humans is 500 to 600 micrograms per kilogram body weight per day.” 4,500 to 5,500 IU for me.

  4. Important July 2009 article on OncologyStat Vitamin D3 Plus Calcium
    Full PDF
    FIGURE 6. Cancer-free survival in 1,179 women, excluding first year cases, after 4 years of follow-up, according to random allocation to placebo, calcium (1,450 mg calcium per day), or calcium and vitamin D3 (1,100 IU vitamin D3 and 1,450 mg calcium per day). Cancer-free survival was 77% higher in the calcium and vitamin D3 group than the placebo group.

    More research should be performed to determine the extent to which the benefits of vitamin D adequacy may apply to a wider range of cancers and to describe doseresponse relationships with cancer incidence and mortality rates at higher serum 25(OH)D levels, such as 60–80 ng/mL (150–200 nmol/L) and oral intakes of vitamin D3 above 4000 IU/day.
    In the meantime, populations living at or higher than 30 (Mexico?) latitude, or who have a mainly indoor lifestyle, should be considered at high risk of cancers.

  5. Mom and Jim Goodman

    Hi Linnea: Wow, your blogs are great. Your Mom says you are very bright and is very proud, so am I!
    Keep up the good work. You are touching many lives we are sure. You may get a call from Denice’s relative who has lung cancer issues. Call when you can, hope David’s Mom’s home is OK. Loved seeing you at Claude’s.

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