While we have always touted the anti-cancer benefits of vitamin D, a recent 10-year study of 67,721 post-menopausal women in France shows evidence that vitamin D plays a role in reducing the risk of breast cancer and the addition of adequate sun exposure substantially drops the risk further.
Scientists found that women living in the sunniest places in France, such as Provence, had only half the breast cancer risk compared with women in less sunny latitudes such as Paris. Women with the highest dietary vitamin D intake and the most generous sun exposure had the most significant protection from developing breast cancer. Interestingly, women with the lowest vitamin D intake but the highest sun exposure still had a 32% lower risk of breast cancer than their counterparts living in less sunny areas.
Studies restricted to dietary vitamin D intake have provided inconsistent results. Sunshine is the more significant factor in reducing breast cancer risk likely because dietary vitamin D from food and supplements doesn’t always get adequately synthesized by the body. The scientists in this particular study conclude that high vitamin D serum concentrations lower the risk of breast cancer and that “a threshold of vitamin D exposure from both sun and diet is required to prevent [breast cancer] and this threshold is particularly difficult to reach in postmenopausal women at northern latitudes where quality of sunlight is too poor for adequate vitamin D production.”
The best way to ensure adequate vitamin D metabolism and synthesis is to get 20 minutes of daily sun exposure without sunscreen, according to the Canadian Cancer Society. Northern latitudes may require 30-40 minutes, particularly if only a portion of the body is exposed. A diet high in antioxidants, particularly the carotenoid known as astaxanthin, may help boost the body’s natural protection against harmful UV light. Some research has shown astaxanthin to protect body tissues from oxidative damage from the sun. Dietary sources of astaxanthin include krill oil, salmon, carrots, red peppers, and other red pigmented vegetables and fruits.
Sources: Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2011 Jan;20(1):187-98. Epub 2010 Dec 2. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2010 Sep;19(9):2341-50. Haematococcus astaxanthin: applications for human health and nutrition; livestrong.com
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