Health: Sunshine vitamin helps older women avoid skin cancer

2009-03-06 00:00

A study conducted in the United States shows that high doses of Vitamin D supplementation could reduce the skin cancer risk in post-menopausal women by almost 80%. However, a local cancer expert has warned that the study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition could only be significant locally if a similar study is conducted in South Africa.

The four-year study, conducted by the Creighton University School of Medicine, investigated the cancer risk of 1 179 post-menopausal women from rural Nebraska. The women, all 55 years and older, had been free of cancer for 10 years prior to the start of the study.

One group of women was given between 1 400 mg and 1 500 mg of calcium supplements as well as Vitamin D3 supplements at three times the recommended daily allowance.

The second group was given calcium supplementation only while another group was given a placebo.

The study found that those receiving the Vitamin D supplementation showed a 77% reduction in skin cancer risk.

The study reports that medical experts have expressed a need to increase the recommended dosage of Vitamin D although there is still a debate regarding the appropriate dosage. Vitamin D supplementation is available in two forms — Vitamin D2 found in plants and not produced by humans and D3, which can be generated by between 10 to 25 minutes of exposure to the sun.

Researchers recommend vitamin D3 because it is more active and effective in humans.

But Dr Carl Albrecht, head of research at the Cancer Association of SA (Cansa), warned that for the study to be relevant for South Africa it would have to be done among the local population.

Albrecht said lack of funds is a stumbling block for Cansa to follow up on such studies, but expressed the hope that other institutions will follow up on the study.

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