Answer to preventing illness may be in Vitamin D

May 18, 2014

Vitamin D is the vitamin most often associated with sunshine, but could it also be used to prevent cancer and heart disease?

This week on Take Care, Dr. Joann Manson, a professor of medicine at Harvard University and chief of preventative medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital, discusses how clinical trials could prove that Vitamin D could help prevent diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and cancer.

Click 'Read More' to hear our interview with Dr. Joann Manson.

While Vitamin D can be received through food or supplements and be synthesized in the body through exposure to sunlight, Manson said it's possible you still aren't getting enough.

"Unless you have a fair amount of dairy products and fish each week, it is likely that you may need at least a multivitamin to help get the amount of Vitamin D that's recommended," Manson said.

Still, Manson said you shouldn’t seek out extra sunlight.

"As a general rule, we do not recommend increasing sun exposure to get more Vitamin D because the ultraviolet light has been linked to an increased risk of skin cancer," she said.

The recommended amount of IU's per day for Vitamin D is 4,000. Manson said it is also possible to have too much Vitamin D per day, which can lead to excessive calcium in the blood and cause problems such as an increased risk of heart disease. Vitamin D deficiency, however, carries many of the same risks, so Manson said it's important to stay within a range.

"Fortunately that range is relatively wide, so you don't need to worry if you take a tiny bit more that recommended, it's not likely to cause a problem," Manson said.

Manson is currently conducting a large-scale trial into how Vitamin D can be used to prevent cancer, hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. Previous trials have been inconsistent in results, but she said she believes this trial could find something new

"There's still reason for optimism, because the trials to date have not generally tested moderate to high doses, they've tested lower doses that may not be high enough to see these benefits."

Most promising, she said, is that there is some evidence the vitamin could combat a hormone linked to hypertension and heart failure.

What is known for sure is that getting the proper amount of Vitamin D is crucial to bone health and can help improve muscle strength and balance. Enough to make it worth keeping track of your intake.