Posts Tagged ‘vitamins’

Food and Cancer

| September 13th, 2010 | No Comments »

According to the World Health Organization cancer is responsible for 12.5% of the deaths globally per year. Diet is linked to 30% of cancers in the developed, and 20% in the developing world. Though those numbers are strong, there is a lack of cohesion in the medical world regarding their validity. Some recent studies have shown much less profound links between cancer and nutrition. So who is right? What is the role that food plays in preventing cancer? And who do we believe?

In articles published by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute it is pointed out that the most recent, rigorous studies show only a 2-3% percent correlation of diet to cancer prevention, rather than a 30% one. Other interesting data shows a strong correlation between certain supplements and increased rates of cancer, specifically a 163% increase in prostate cancer when 1200 mg folate supplements were administered.

An article in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition argues that lifestyle and nutrition are the key factors in preventing cancer. In their estimate the use of supplements and the focus on single nutrients in studies are responsible for the weaker numbers that have been found. This article argues that a balanced diet of whole foods is where the highest rate of prevention can be found. The JACN article also criticizes the reactionary focus of western medicine and highlights the need for society as a whole to make a profound shift in their approach to food.

Between the two points of view there are two points of agreement. Supplements are a greater risk than remedy and that more, better, research must be done. In exploring all the arguments out there and the recommendations being made I think that no one really knows. No one nutrient has been shown to be a magic cure for cancer, no particular diet has yet come to light that absolutely prevents cancer.

Taking a step back, why are we even exploring the impact of food and nutrition on cancer? To understand let’s quickly look at what cancer is, and what food can do for the body in preventing it.

Cancer is basically a cell gone bad. One whose intended function is derailed and which begins to reproduce wildly. We all have these cells in our bodies. In the countless cell divisions that occur daily in our bodies there are always errors that have the potential to create cancer cells. Most of the time our immune system finds those cells and kills them. Cancer as a disease manifests when our immune systems fails and those cells run amok.

How does food effect this process? Food is what makes your body go. Calories fuel our body, nutrients provide chemicals that run our systems and are the building blocks of our tissues. Even the parts we don’t digest help us, ensuring that our digestive track has enough in it to move our waste along. Eating the proper foods helps to ensure that we have the energy for cellular and nerve activity, are able to build strong protein and fatty acid chains, that our chemical messaging systems has the right messengers who do not get lost. A healthy immune system ensures that we have the Natural Killer Cells (yes, they are really called that) in proper numbers and strength to destroy the erroneous cells that do occur. Proper nutrition also ensures that our tissues are healthy and less vulnerable. There are also substances in food that help to interfere with the activity of harmful substances in the body, some block access to cells, some destroy free-radicals, some ensure a quick passage through the body to lessen exposure to a particular substance.

What really got me thinking in the JNCI was that though no significant reduction in cancer rates were noted, there was a 30% decrease in heart disease in groups with better diets. Our lack of strong, consistent, rigorous research hasn’t stopped a large number of laymen and medical professional, and their organizations from promoting a very consistent type of diet. Keep your calories and fat low, your fibre and whole grain high and eat a wide variety of vegetables and fruits. Where is the harm in this? Maybe you won’t stop cancer, but you will likely stave off diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

Links:

World Health Organization; JCNIarticle one and article two; JACN; Specific Foods and their cancer fighting chemistry

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Vitamin D

| June 2nd, 2010 | No Comments »

PLEASE NOTE: Originally published on December 1, 2009 in “Your Body.  Yourself?” my old blog

Recently there have been reports that Vitamin D will help protect you from H1N1. Vitamin D, long associated with bone health, has also been shown to be an immunomodulator – which is a big word used to say that Vitamin D has a role in regulating how your immune system functions. Through this function it can assist your body in fighting off infection and disease, which, of course, includes H1N1. This process can also help your body shorten the length and severity of the flu should you be infected.

Vitamin D can both enhance and inhibit the immune system. Think of it as providing maintenance and guidance to the immune system. This functions is leading to research in Vitamin D’s role in prevention and treatment for not only infectious diseases, like colds and flus, but also autoimmune diseases (i.e. Multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis) and cancers. The recent recommendations for higher daily intake of Vitamin D in pregnant women is linked to a study of MS onset

Taking Vitamin D supplements will help your immune system stay strong, especially in the gloomy months of the west coast winter when our sun exposure driven vitamin D production is inhibited. At our latitude, from November to February, at a minimum, we are not exposed to sufficient UVB levels to create enough Vitamin D. Winter supplementation of Vitamin D is now strongly suggested.

It must be kept in mind that vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin. A fat soluble vitamin is one which requires lipids (fat) to be absorbed into the body, and which can, then, be stored in fat within the body. This means that though a bit of supplementation is helpful, too much can create toxicity. Vitamin D toxicity can cause calcification of the kidney, as well as heart, lungs and blood vessels.

There is a reassessment of recommended intake for Vitamin D being undertaken but for now Health Canada holds firm with the tradition 200 IU’s per day (or 5 micrograms) for those 0-50. That amount doubles to 400 IU for 50-70 year old and go up again to 600 IU for those past 70 years, to help maintain healthy bones. The recommendations however also suggest a 400 IU supplement for breast fed babies under one year. The maximum safe levels are much higher at 2000 IU per day for all over 1 year.

Fish is your most reliable dietary source of Vitamin D especially the fatty fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel – think of the same fish that supply you with Omega 3’s and you are on the right track. Beef liver, eggs and cheese also naturally provide vitamin D. In Canada all of our milk, some cereal products and orange juices are supplemented with Vitamins D to a level such that two large glasses of milk should provide adequate Vitamin D for a child or adult.

If you decide to supplement Vitamin D look for a D3 supplement as they have been shown to have a stronger and longer impact on blood levels of Vitamin D than D2. Stay aware of the recommended intakes and be sensible. You drink a litre of milk a day? Extra Vitamin D is probably not necessary for you. You are a vegan or a lactose intolerant vegetarian – you may want to look at Vitamin D supplements. Of course if you are a snowbird and headed to Arizona any day now, you should get enough UVB to keep you in Vitamin D!

Some things to keep in mind generally about vitamins and supplementation generally. Always look for reputable names when you are looking at supplements. This is not the time to look only at price. Keep an eye out for quality. Ask a pharmacist or your doctor. Talk someone at a health food or vitamin store, they are are often well informed. Fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) do carry the risk of toxicity if you take high doses over time. Water soluble vitamins are harder to overdose on as they are easily excreted in urine, but you can overdose, and even if you do not and your body safely processes that mega-dose you decided to try you will simply end up with very costly pee!

As with anything you put in your body, a bit of knowledge, thought and common sense go a long way to keeping you healthy and happy – and moderation is always a good path.

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