Can vitamin D reduce the risk of breast cancer?
Some research suggests that women with low levels of vitamin D (which the body makes from sunlight) at the time of breast cancer diagnosis had almost twice the risk of their cancer spreading and were nearly three times more likely to die within 10 years. Vitamin D is converted into a hormone that helps to prevent normal cells from becoming cancerous and, in some cases, induces established cancer cells to stop growing and die. Researchers are working to determine whether boosting vitamin D status after a breast cancer diagnosis can lower the odds of cancer spreading. If you’re curious about your levels, ask for a 25-hydroxyvitamin D blood test, says JoEllen Welsh, Ph.D., an environmental health sciences professor at the State University of New York at Albany.
How much to take: If your 25-hydroxyvitamin D blood test is low, consuming between 1,000 IU and 2,000 IU per day may be needed to get the optimal vitamin D level for cancer prevention as suggested by the research, says Welsh. (Most experts say the government’s current guideline of 600 IU per day is too low.) Ask your doctor to administer a vitamin D test to find out what you need.
Get some sun: During the spring and summer, just 10 to 15 minutes of sun per day, three times a week (without sunscreen), is enough to produce the requirement of vitamin D. To protect against skin cancer, avoid the peak sun hours (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.). Depending on where you live, winter sun may be insufficient for vitamin D production, so dietary sources or supplements are especially important for women who live in northern areas.
Do supplements help?
Several supplements have been demonstrated to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer, and some other supplements may help make cancer treatments easier and more effective.
MelatonIn: This hormone, secreted primarily at night, is used to help induce sleep. But it also slows cellular growth, improves immunity and may be effective against tumors, says Alschuler. Talk to a naturopathic physician; a dosage of 3 mg to 20 mg may be necessary.
Green tea extract: Epidemiological evidence suggests that green tea can be a potent weapon against breast cancer, particularly in early stage cancer, says Alschuler. “If you consume more than five (4-ounce) cups of green tea a day, the risk of recurrence may drop 30 percent to 40 percent,” she says. Green tea is thought to work against cancer four ways: It inhibits tumor growth- signaling pathways; it stimulates cancer-cell death; it inhibits enzymes that cancer cells use to spread; and it alters the metabolism of estrogens. Buy organic green tea, or take two to four 250 mg to 300 mg capsules of standardized green tea extract with meals. Make sure supplements are standardized to 80 percent polyphenols, of which 50 percent is EGCG, says Alschuler.
Lavender and chamomIle tea: For patients with anxiety or sleeplessness, Alschuler suggests melatonin, lavender and/ or chamomile tea. Lavender, containing a lavender essential oil extract called Silexan, is very effective at reducing anxiety. Just one 80 mg capsule will significantly reduce anxiety in the majority of people who take it. “Many of chamomile’s medicinal properties are in the volatile oils that come out in the steam, so it’s important to steep the tea covered,” Alschuler explains. Use two bags per cup (look for an organic brand), or buy organic dried flowers and use one tablespoon per cup of boiling water. Let steep 10 to 15 minutes and add honey to taste.
Coffee: New research from Lund University in Sweden has found that drinking coffee could decrease the risk of breast cancer recurring in patients taking tamoxifen. Study subjects taking the cancer drug who also drank two or more cups of coffee daily reported less than half the rate of cancer recurrence compared with their non-coffee-drinking tamoxifen- taking counterparts. The researchers think that something in coffee activates tamoxifen, making it even more effective.