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Vitamin D - Is This The Miracle Vitamin – book Aug 2012

By: Ian Wishart. New Zealand An investigative reporter who has written many books. WikiPedia entry ian at news24seven.tv
– in paper, Kindel, ePub, and PDF format
New Zealand Publisher

25 minute audio interview with author Sept 2012

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See also VitaminDWiki

Table of Contents (followed by 322 references)

Introduction 6
Important Notice 9
The Story Of D 10
Alzheimer's Curse 23
Autistic Spectrum Disorders 33
Asthma & Allergies 47
Cancer, Breast 56
Cancer, Colon & Prostate 71
The Heart Of The Matter 84
Common Infections 100 Conception, Pregnancy, Childhood:
Why Your Baby Needs Vitamin D 117
Mental Illness 140
Multiple Sclerosis 144
Chrohn's Disease & Type 1 Diabetes 152
Sunscreens: A Clear And Present Danger 158
Melanoma: Could Sunscreens Be Causing It? 179
Vitamin D: Best Sources 210
The NZ Position: A Commentary 234
Other books by Ian Wishart 250


Seven years ago, I began researching this book. I didn't know it then, of course.
At the time vitamin D was an 'emerging issue' mostly confined to the medical literature and with little spillover into the popular press, particularly in Australia and New Zealand.

While the northern hemisphere was more attuned to the lack of vitamin D available at higher latitudes, the sunny south was blissfully ignorant.
It wasn't possible to be vitamin D deficient down under, or so they thought.
Investigate magazine became the first mainstream media outlet in New Zealand to raise the vitamin D debate, and question whether our national obsession with slip, slop, slap was actually costing lives, not saving them.

For taking that stand, based on an ever growing body of literature, we were pilloried at the time by the establishment and by other media outlets raised on a diet of bureaucratic mushroom food.
It's funny how things change. In the last 12 months it's been hard to escape magazine and newspaper stories raising exactly the same issues we did all those years ago. Suddenly 25-hydroxyvitamin-D is the vitamin-du-jour. It's everywhere.


One thing hasn't changed, however. The health bureaucracy is still dishing out mushroom food to the news media.
Hence this book. Since 2005, I've set my inbox to receive daily Google news alerts on vitamin D studies so I could keep up with the science. Every morning, a summary of half a dozen or so of the world headlines on the subject were there to peruse, 365 days a year for seven years. That's somewhere north of 15,000 news stories and scientific studies in my files. I've interviewed key people on both sides of the debate over the years and written many feature articles and news stories.

What this book attempts to do is collate the latest cutting edge research to give you the big picture on vitamin D in regard to your own health choices.
One in three of us will die from heart disease, one in three from cancer, and Alzheimer's has a one-in-two chance of taking us if we make it to old age. Amongst the rest of us, well, the Devil will take the hindmost. In the race for a better life and a happier future, we're all seeking that miracle ingredient that will actually stack the odds in our favour. Is vitamin D that miracle?

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Vitamin D is the hottest development in medical science, and in this compelling new book Ian Wishart brings together the most up to date science on vitamin D and how it could well save your life.

Cancer? A 77% reduction in risk of developing it if you take this vitamin?

Heart disease? The same kind of reduction. Did you know that autism, mental illness and multiple sclerosis all appear to be caused by a lack of vitamin D during pregnancy? Did you know that ADHD and asthma appear to result from that same deficiency?

The lives of every single New Zealander, including YOU, will be affected by the information in this book.


Asthma, Autism, Allergies, Alzheimer's, Breast Cancer, Bowel Cancer, Skin Cancer, Melanoma, Heart Disease, Stroke, Colds, Flu Pandemics, Crohn's Disease, Mental Illness, Diabetes, Tuberculosis, Multiple Sclerosis, Depression, ADHD, Pregnancy, Infertility, Hospital Superbugs and more...


“There may be more beneficial than adverse effects of moderately increased sun exposure, even for total cancer mortality" – Dr Johan Moan, Norwegian cancer researcher, 2008

The story of vitamin D is a tale as old as life itself. Ultimately, virtually all energy available to life on this planet derives from the sun. It has beaten down on the face of the earth for around 4.5 billion years, yet life has emerged and thrived, our DNA code seemingly designed to process sunlight.

Evidence of vitamin D synthesis has been found in the fossilised remains of plankton from more than 750 million years ago. With solar radiation from a young sun powering down on everything that swam, crawled, walked or grew, life could not have survived without some kind of mechanism to use and/or deflect the unrelenting energy emissions of the nearest star.

Plants developed photosynthesis and turned sunlight into food. Vertebrates converted sunlight into bones.

Synthesising vitamin D is crucial for developing strong skeletons. Without that process, bones remain fragile and/or soft. The mighty dinosaurs would have collapsed under their own weight into piles of flesh and lard, without vitamin D.

How then do animals cope with skin cancer. Surely staying in sunlight all day gives them a higher risk than humans? Apparently not. While skin cancers of various kinds, including melanoma, are quite common in animals, they are rarely fatal and can often be left untreated, say vets.[1] Animal bodies are sufficiently acclimatised to radiation to be able to keep skin cancers mostly under control. Natural selection works to ensure that tougher gene lines survive and the weaker ones are weeded out.

In apes, the mechanism for utilising vitamin D is different from humans. When solar radiation hits an ape or monkey, the vitamin D is created in the skin, but then secreted back up into the fur. It is from licking themselves while grooming, or picking out bugs from the fur, that the vitamin D gets into the mouth and is digested. It is from there that primates utilise vitamin D for bone and general health.

So what went wrong with humans?

For tens of thousands of years we have adapted to solar radiation, the most obvious example being racial skin colouring. Humans living near the tropics are darker skinned thanks to melanin, the protective pigment in our cells that is switched on by sunlight as a defence mechanism against UV radiation. Populations living further north or south of the equator developed lighter skins, but why?

It now turns out that darker skins in the higher latitudes don’t allow enough vitamin D into your body because they block the weaker sun more efficiently. Darker-skinned people in Europe and North America, or New Zealand and southern Australia, for example, have greater health problems than light-skinned people. It is only in the past decade, however, that we have really become aware of just why that is: a lack of vitamin D.

The first records we can examine, with hindsight, for clues, date back to 450 BC, when Greek historian Herodotus noted that warriors from Persia had soft skulls. Nowadays, we know this to be a bone condition called osteomalacia, the adult form of “rickets”. Herodotus reckoned the Persians had soft heads because they wore turbans. Hippocrates, from whom medicine derives its ‘Hippocratic oath’, wrote about rickets around the same time, and also prescribed sunlight as a treatment for tuberculosis – a disease now known to be affected by vitamin D.

No one back then knew, of course, about the existence of vitamin D as such, or the precise reactions that sunlight triggered in the human body.

It wasn’t until the dawning of the age of modern science that researchers began making a closer connection between some of these conditions. In 1789, for example, a doctor prescribed cod-liver oil – now known as an excellent food source of vitamin D – for chronic rheumatism. Cod-liver oil was then experimented with, successfully, as a treatment for children with rickets in the 1820s. But it wasn’t for a further 100 years that science could finally put a name to the mysterious vitamin itself. Two lines of research, one working with cod-liver oil and another with sunlight, converged in the 1930s with the discovery that sunlight was creating in skin the same substance found in cod-liver oil. They called it vitamin D, and it formed when the substance 7-Dehydrocholesterol was exposed to ultraviolet radiation.[2]

For decades, science has known about vitamin D being crucial to bone and skeletal health, and children in the forties and fifties were routinely given doses of cod-liver oil and sunlight for good health.

During the same period, however, sunscreens were beginning to capture the public imagination and of course industrialisation was keeping people working behind closed doors in dark offices and factories.

Society was changing. For the first time in thousands of years, it was possible for people to really protect themselves from the sun’s UV radiation. Yet at the same time, skin cancer cases suddenly began to escalate.

In the early 1990s, a Norwegian Cancer Institute research scientist, Professor Johan Moan, made a staggering announcement in the British Journal of Cancer: while the annual incidence of melanoma in Norway had quadrupled between 1957 and 1984, there had been no corresponding change in the ozone layer over the region. "Ozone depletion is not the cause of the increase in skin cancers," his medical journal report notes.

As if to emphasise the rapid increase in skin cancer rates, the Norwegians re-analysed the data just a few years later and found the rates had grown again, a 600% increase in skin cancer between 1960 and 1990 – just thirty years! Yet still no change in ozone levels.

Why was skin cancer rising when supposedly increased UV through the ozone hole was not actually causing it?

For a long while, research on vitamin D languished on the fringes. The primary area of interest to public health authorities was putting in place campaigns easily understood by the public in order to reduce the growing epidemic of skin cancer.

Slip, slop, slap became a global catchphrase.

By the mid 2000s, however, strange results were emerging from scientific studies. Time after time, people with low vitamin D levels were found to have a higher risk of dying from cancer or heart disease.

In January 2008, Norway’s Johan Moan was back at centre stage with the publication of a report in America’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal,[3] based on new cancer data from New Zealand, Australia and Scandinavia. Moan had chosen the antipodes because the two southern hemisphere nations have the highest skin cancer rates and strongest UV radiation in the world, thanks largely to the ozone hole over Antarctica during the southern summer and the current tilt of earth’s axis.

Moan wanted to compare skin cancer data from New Zealand and Australia, with the same statistics in the Northern Hemisphere. His team chose racial and skin types that are closely related genetically, in order to get the best possible comparison. What they found shook up the world of vitamin D research.

While people downunder suffer much higher melanoma rates than their colleagues in the north, Australia and New Zealand’s survival rates are – paradoxically – much higher on a victim-for-victim comparison. The same applies to internal cancers like breast, prostate or colon – although Australasia suffers higher rates of those cancers, residents of New Zealand and Oz are also more likely to survive them.

Australians, who get more sun than kiwis, are more likely to survive their cancers than New Zealanders are, lending further weight to the theory.

What remains up in the air is the exact cause of many of these cancers. Modern diets are full of agricultural chemicals, with one Spanish study published 2008 finding every single Spanish citizen (100% of the study sample) has one or more agricultural pesticides circulating in their blood at significant levels. New Zealand and Australia, as heavy agricultural producers, may have correspondingly higher cancer rates for that reason. Even so, sunlight appears to have a significant impact in helping survive those cancers.

The data mined for the PNAS study raised doubts about whether sunlight was the driving cause of melanoma.

"The main arguments against the concept that sun exposure causes cutaneous malignant melanoma (CMM) are that: 1) CMM is more common among persons with indoor work than among those people with outdoor work; 2) in younger generations, more CMMs arise per unit skin area on partly shielded areas (trunk and legs) than on face and neck; and 3) CMMs sometimes arise on totally shielded areas [soles of feet, palms, inside the eyeball]."

Nonetheless, the PNAS study suggests that a "significant fraction" of malignant melanomas may be caused by sun exposure.

Leaving aside the cause, however, the PNAS study had some breakthrough data on cancer survival rates. If your vitamin D levels are high, you are around 30% more likely to survive "prostate, breast, colon and lung cancers, as well as lymphomas and even melanomas," reports the study.

"Other investigators have found comparable results. These data argue for a positive role of sun-induced vitamin D in cancer prognosis, or that a good vitamin D status is advantageous when in combination with standard cancer therapies."

At the stage the research was done, the upper “safe limit” of vitamin D supplement intake was believed by regulators to be 200 international units a day. Whilst the human body had become supremely efficient at converting sunlight to vitamin D without any toxic effects, too much vitamin D in food had been shown to be harmful in the past.

Moan’s study raised a conundrum, because it found the levels of vitamin D needed in the blood to help protect against cancer were far higher than you could achieve in 2008 taking the maximum recommended supplement of 200 IU a day in pill form. The only option then, appeared to be sunlight as a source of healthy vitamin D, which put Moan directly in the firing line of the skin cancer research community. That didn’t stop Moan from stating the obvious:

"Thus we conclude that…the sun is an important source of vitamin D…So far, epidemiological data for cancer argue for an overall positive role of sun-induced vitamin D. There may be more beneficial than adverse effects of moderately increased sun exposure, even for total cancer mortality."

To understand why this might be the case, you first need to understand a little about vitamin D. Ignore some of the long words and just follow the ball in the brief description that follows.

When UVB rays from the sun strike our skin, they set off a chemical reaction pre-programmed into our DNA. Dermatologists call the process “DNA damage” in a bid to scare people, but it’s entirely natural and has been part of our life cycle since the very beginning of humanity. The chemical in the skin that reacts to sunlight is called 7-dehydro-cholesterol which, as its name suggests, is a type of cholesterol. Without it, the reaction could not happen.

The 7-dehydro-cholesterol is transformed by the UV and thermal energy into the chemical we call vitamin D3, or cholecalciferol. This chemical is then circulated through the bloodstream into the liver where it is “hydroxylated” into 25(OH)D (aka calcidiol) – the actual variant of vitamin D that’s measured in blood serum levels.

Still watching the ball? The 25(OH)D is then spun off by the kidney and converted into a further form known as 1,25(OH)2D, (calcitriol) which is the variant used to regulate calcium absorption in your body and perform a whole lot of previously unknown functions.

“1,25(OH)2D acts as a molecular switch,” writes vitamin D researcher John Cannell, activating “target genes” and receptors throughout the body. One of the recent discoveries, for example, is that our immune systems use it to manufacture “naturally-occurring human antibiotics” within our bodies. If you have low vitamin D, your body’s immune system can’t manufacture its own antibiotics, and the implications of that don’t require a rocket science degree.[4]

But here’s the twist. Up until only a few years ago, it was assumed 1,25(OH) 2D could only be manufactured by the kidneys, and only for the purposes of the well understood skeletal health system. Instead, most organs of the body have since been discovered to have the ability to generate 1,25(OH) 2D for their own purposes. The brain, the heart, the stomach, the lungs, just some of the previously unknown systems for processing vitamin D independent of the kidneys. No other vitamin is like it.

The argument that vitamin D had special powers gained weight from another study, a randomised controlled trial of vitamin D over a four year period, which found a dramatic decrease in cancers amongst those who were given 1,110 IU (international units) of vitamin D3 each day, compared to those on a placebo.

The study followed 403 women from Nebraska, and measured them against a control group of 206 on placebo. After the trial, the vitamin D users had 77% fewer cancers than placebo users.[5]

While the debate about supplementation vs sunbathing, or even a combination of both, is ongoing, the message that vitamin D appears to lower cancer risk is clear.

Of course, as with all things, there is a trade-off between increasing sun exposure for your family's health, and increasing the risk of skin cancer. But the numbers tell the story: In 2004, 7,900 Americans died of melanoma. On the flip side of that coin and using the above data, 45,000 Americans are believed to have died from cancers that they could have survived with greater exposure to the sun. In other words, you may be nine times more likely to die from cancer caused or aggravated by a lack of sunlight, than you are from skin cancer caused by sunlight.

A 2009 report delivered to the Canadian government estimated that if vitamin D levels were increased across the board, 37,000 fewer people would die prematurely in Canada each year as a result of avoidable disease, saving taxpayers some $14 billion annually and saving an enormous amount of family grief.[6]

Yet the extent of vitamin D deficiency is actually huge. A telltale sign is the huge rise in the number of cases of rickets – a disease thought vanquished in the early 20th century – across the world. Characterised by bone deformities, children and babies can also suffer seizures. Hospital emergency departments in London, New York, Sydney and Auckland are routinely seeing children with rickets now.

Low vitamin D levels are the cause. A study of inpatients at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital found 57% had vitamin D levels in the blood that were deficient.[7] Thirty one percent of Australians are in the same boat.[8] Even in Melbourne and Adelaide at the end of summer, 42% of women and 27% of men were vitamin D deficient. Given the Aussie summer sun, they shouldn’t have been.

As vitamin D researcher Cedric Garland announced to the world, getting people to spend 15 minutes a day in the sun without sunscreen could save ten lives from cancer alone, for every extra skin cancer death caused by increased sun exposure.

It was this kind of information that caused doctors the world over to sit up and think: was the message on staying sun-safe the wrong message? Had the pendulum of caution swung too far, to the point where it was causing more cancers in other areas? What exactly was the link between vitamin D and cancer mortality? Why was melanoma not nearly as fatal in New Zealand and Australia, despite the strongest UV radiation in the world?

Could it be that the sunshine vitamin held secrets essential to life, secrets only now being unlocked?

[1] “Gray area” by Ken Marcella, D.V.M, http://www.horses-and-horse-information.com/articles/0701melanoma.shtml
[2] There are two primary forms of vitamin D. Ergocalciferol, known as vitamin D2, is obtained from food sources. Cholecalciferol, or vitamin D3, is produced when sunlight strikes your skin and converts cholesterol to a fat-soluble compound.
[3] “Addressing the health benefits and risks, involving vitamin D or skin cancer, of increased sun exposure,” Moan et al, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, PNAS January 15, 2008 vol. 105 no. 2 668-673. http://www.pnas.org/content/105/2/668.long
[4] “Diagnosis and treatment of vitamin D deficiency”, Cannell et al, Journal of Expert Opinion in Pharmacotherapy, 2008, 9(1):1-12
[5] “Vitamin D and calcium supplementation reduces cancer risk,” Lappe et al, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2007, 85(6):1586-91
[6] “An estimate of the economic burden and premature deaths due to vitamin D deficiency in Canada,” Grant et al, Mol. Nutr. Food Res. 2010, 54, 1172–1181, http://www.vitamindsociety.org/pdf/Grant%202010%20-%20vitamin%20D%20deficiency%20in%20Canada.pdf
[7] “Diagnosis and treatment of vitamin D deficiency,” Cannell et al, Expert Opinion in Pharmacotherapy, 2008 9(1), citing “Hypovitaminosis D in medical inpatients,” Thomas et al, New England Journal of Medicine, 1998; 338(12):777-83
[8] “Prevalence of vitamin D deficiency and its determinants in Australian adults etc,” Daly et al, Oxford Journal of Clinical Endocrinology, 2012 Jul; 77(1):26-35