December 28, 2005


Revealed: the pill that prevents cancer (Jeremy Laurance, The Independent, 12/28/05)

A daily dose of vitamin D could cut the risk of cancers of the breast, colon and ovary by up to a half, a 40-year review of research has found. The evidence for the protective effect of the "sunshine vitamin" is so overwhelming that urgent action must be taken by public health authorities to boost blood levels, say cancer specialists.

A growing body of evidence in recent years has shown that lack of vitamin D may have lethal effects. Heart disease, lung disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis are among the conditions in which it is believed to play a vital role. The vitamin is also essential for bone health and protects against rickets in children and osteoporosis in the elderly. . . .

Countries around the world have begun to modify their warnings about the dangers of sunbathing, as a result of the growing research on vitamin D. The Association of Cancer Councils of Australia acknowledged this year for the first time that some exposure to the sun was healthy.

Australia is one of the world's sunniest countries and has among the highest rates of skin cancer. For three decades it has preached sun avoidance with its "slip, slap, slop" campaign to cover up and use sunscreen. But in a statement in March, the association said: "A balance is required between avoiding an increase in the risk of skin cancer and achieving enough ultraviolet radiation exposure to achieve adequate vitamin D levels." Bruce Armstrong, the professor of public health at Sydney University, said: " It is a revolution."

In the latest study, cancer specialists from the University of San Diego, California, led by Professor Cedric Garland, reviewed 63 scientific papers on the link between vitamin D and cancer published between 1966 and 2004. People living in the north-eastern US, where it is less sunny, and African Americans with darker skins were more likely to be deficient, researchers found. They also had higher cancer rates.

The researchers say their finding could explain why black Americans die sooner from cancer than whites, even after allowing for differences in income and access to care.

Do you ever suspect that modern Public Health is, at best, a wash?

Posted by David Cohen at December 28, 2005 8:51 AM

Excellent question. The answer is yes.

Posted by: jdkelly at December 28, 2005 9:55 AM

it's like the kennedy assination -- lots of theories, one of which is correct. fat is bad, carbs are good. no, carbs are bad, fat is ok. and so on. a healthy diet and lifestyle are matters of discipline and common sense, so of course that leaves a lot of people up the creek.

Posted by: dr toe at December 28, 2005 10:14 AM

I always wait 15 minutes until the next study comes out that says what we were just told was bad for us is actually good for us. Or vice versa.

Posted by: Melissa at December 28, 2005 10:21 AM

Or for the red meat, alcohol, and smoking diet recommended in SLEEPER to receive the endorsement of the AMA.

Posted by: John Barrett Jr. at December 28, 2005 10:35 AM

i thought it odd that the article never mentioned if california and australia have lower cancer rates then the rest of the country.

Posted by: dr toe at December 28, 2005 12:07 PM

Last I heard, the foods that prevent cancer include ketchup, mustard, and sauerkraut.

Posted by: Joseph Hertzlinger at December 28, 2005 2:49 PM

I recall about ten years ago reading of a study that suggested yoghurt causes cancer. Of course, it also called for more research on the subject.

Posted by: Peter B at December 28, 2005 2:57 PM
Do you ever suspect that modern Public Health is, at best, a wash?

Whenever I start to think that way, I look at our mortality statistics, and the feeling passes.

Posted by: Kirk Parker at December 28, 2005 3:28 PM

"Sleeper" also revealed the salutary effects of that most perfect of all foods, hot fudge applied in copious quantities to pistachio ice cream.

Posted by: erp at December 28, 2005 4:35 PM

Kirk: Certainly we've got good individual medicine, but what has public health given us? Anything that matters besides better sanitation?

Posted by: David Cohen at December 28, 2005 5:02 PM


Vaccination programs?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 28, 2005 7:27 PM

It's really interesting the degree to which sanitation achieved near everything that medicine is credited with, making Leviticus the single greatest public health advance in human history:

Posted by: oj at December 28, 2005 8:16 PM

why were the improvements made ? what drove the changes to the infrastructure ?

Posted by: toe at December 28, 2005 10:18 PM

Jeff: I suppose.

Toe: Statistics.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 29, 2005 9:07 AM

Toe: The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100 : Europe, America, and the Third World, by Robert Fogel, comes highly recommended, and is on my "to-read" pile after I get finished with The Last Duel. My understanding is that Fogel says nutrition + sanitation = longer life. Medicine doesn't figure nearly as much.

Posted by: joe shropshire at December 29, 2005 11:13 PM

It'd be nice if modern Americans would pay more attention to the "nutrition" aspect.

Put down the burger and pick up an apple, and you might avoid the oncologist.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 30, 2005 4:18 AM