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Vitamin D, Cancer and the Sunscreen Controversy

Statistics Canada reports that two-thirds of all Canadians are vitamin D deficient. Gerry Schwalfenberg, an assistant clinical professor in the department of family medicine at the University of Alberta, said testing showed that “60 to 70% of Canadians have inadequate levels of vitamin D which is not good given that its deficiency is linked to so many cronic diseases.” Immigrants who come to Canada from the countries with sunnier climate are at risk of developing this deficiency as well, which leads to a host of health problems: cancer (especially breast, prostate and colon), heart disease, high blood pressure, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, depression, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, as well as muscle pain and weakness.

Why is vitamin D so important?

Vitamin D is anti-inflammatory and many diseases, including autoimmune diseases, involve inflammation.

Vitamin D is not really a vitamin – it’s a steroid hormone precursor that is produced under your skin when the ultraviolet rays of the sun touch it. In Canada, people get almost no sun in winter. In summer, many people are told to use sunscreens and sun blocks and, as a result, some people don’t get enough vitamin D even in summer!

Who is especially at risk?

–          People with dark skin (dark-coloured skin is less able to make vitamin D than fair-coloured skin)

–          People who work night shifts

–          People who are older (your ability to make vitamin D under your skin declines with age)

–          People who are obese (a body mass index greater than 30 – the fat holds on to vitamin D and does not allow it to be released into the bloodstream)

–          People who take certain medications (cholesterol-lowering drugs, seizure-control drugs, laxative, steroids, and some other)


How much vitamin D do I need?

In one hour spent outside in the sun in summer, your body can manufacture 10,000 IU of vitamin D. If you don’t get sun exposure, you can safely take supplements between 2,000 and 10,000 IU daily. If you live in Canada, the best thing to do is to take supplements during the winter months and make sure you spend at least 15-20 minutes in the sun every day during the summer months.


Can I get enough vitamin D from food?

Some foods, like milk, are fortified with vitamin D but you would need to drink 40 glasses of milk every day or take 10 typical multivitamin pills a day to get the sufficient amount. Salmon, sardines and mackerel are natural food sources of vitamin D but few people eat fish every day.


Do I need to use sunscreens / sun blocks?

Most sunscreens are HARMFUL, especially for children. Mineral sunscreens are safer, while chemical sunscreens are a danger to your family’s health.

Sunscreens work in two ways: a mineral barrier or a chemical barrier. Mineral barrier (with ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide) create a physical barrier to protect the skin from the sun. Chemical sunscreens (with ingredients like oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate) get absorbed into your skin and can act as endocrine disruptors, interfering with hormonal balance in the body and also contributing to skin cancer. These chemicals are carcinogens!

If you want to use sunscreen, choose a mineral one. Or simply wear clothes with long sleeves – after getting enough sun to get your vitamin D of course.


Protect your family – make sure they get enough vitamin D!