Benefits of vitamin D

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
May 29, 2008 3:20:37 PM PDT
Many doctors say we should try to get most of our vitamins from food. But one important vitamin is difficult to get from that source. And evidence of its health benefits is adding up.Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg.

We are talking about vitamin D. Many doctors are enthused about the health benefits of the vitamin, especially regarding the recent news of a possible association with breast cancer protection.

It's not found in a lot of foods, although we can get it from salmon, tuna and milk. Most adult women know that vitamin D is necessary for good bone health. But they still may not be getting enough of it.

Sunlight give us vitamin D, but winter and year-round sunscreen protection means we probably can't get all we need from the sun.

Also, most people don't drink four or more glasses of milk a day, so many doctors recommend supplements.

"I think all of us have to have adequate vitamin D," said Dr. Larry Norton, of Sloan-Kettering Memorial Cancer Center. "Most of us are vitamin D deprived."

Dr. Norton is a renowned oncologist. This weekend, he'll be in Chicago for a national meeting of cancer doctors. They'll be hearing more details about this recent study, which found that vitamin D may have some anti-cancer benefits.

In the study, done in Canada, only one out of four women had adequate levels of vitamin D in her blood when first diagnosed with breast cancer. Those with low levels also had worse outcomes.

"It's just another strong piece of evidence that those of us who take care of people with cancer and are concerned about cancer pay attention to vitamin D, vitamin D levels in the blood and also the intake of vitamin D supplementation," Dr. Norton said.

So for bones and now possibly cancer protection, how much is adequate? Dr. Woodson Merrell is an internist.

"The minimum requirement for vitamin D used to be 400 units a day," he said. "Soon, it is going to be raised to a 1,000, and for people that are deficient, 2,000."

Dr. Jacques Moritz is a gynecologist.

"Nobody knows the exact dose, but I think the sefest dose is 1,000 international units to 2,000 international units," he said.

And oncologist Dr. Norton says he recommends 2,000 per day.

A simple blood test can tell women if they are deficient in vitamin D.