Melanoma Patients: How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?

vitamin D

When I was a child growing up in sunny Arizona, I had knee pain.  The doctor said I had rickets and needed a daily dose of cod liver oil.  So my mother faithfully tried to get me to take it daily.  I was a competitive outdoor swimmer and was constantly outside in the sun without sunscreen protection getting sunburned. The doctor incorrectly thought I had a vitamin D deficiency.  And current thinking about Vitamin D is still confusing!

I know many of you are concerned about your diet now that you have been diagnosed with melanoma.  Melanoma International gets a lot of questions about nutrition and what supplements to take.  And there is a lot of commercial marketing to sell you some expensive supplements with unproven results. But Vitamin D is the one supplement we melanoma patients should be the most concerned about because of our (hopefully) learned sun protective habits.

Vitamin D is not a vitamin but actually a hormone produced in our bodies in reaction to sunlight and seems to have many different roles in the body related to bones, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, immune function and reproductive health.  Those of us who have learned that the sun caused our melanoma are protecting ourselves with sunscreen, clothing and shade.  So what does that do to our vitamin D levels?

The latest scientific evidence about Vitamin D is surprising.  Long held as the one supplement worth spending your money on, a November 2017 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found supplements containing calcium, and vitamin D or both did not appear to protect against hip fracture and other bone breaks in older adults.  Nor did Vitamin D do anything for cardiovascular disease prevention in an April 2017 JAMA study.  The relationship between immune system function and vitamin is still unproven.  Previous studies have shown it can lower risks for diabetes and certain cancers according to the Washington Post.

Getting your blood tested for Vitamin D is good idea. But, misunderstandings about the recommended amount of vitamin D have led to misinterpretation of blood tests. This in turn has resulted in people and medical professionals thinking more is better.

According to experts, when the data is correctly interpreted, less than 6 percent of Americans ages 1 to 70 are deficient and only 13 percent are in danger of not getting enough. Too much vitamin D can lead to high levels of calcium in the blood, which can cause nausea, constipation, kidney stones, an abnormal heart rhythm and other problems.  Moderate dose supplements are not risky, but more is not better. People vary, biologically, in how much of any vitamin they need. The Institute of Medicine released requirements that  on average, people need about 400 international units of vitamin D per day, and 600 units for people older than 70.

Now if you would like to supplement your diet with Vitamin D, you can add the following to your diet.  (Also, note that many foods have added vitamin D to them)

  • Cod liver oil. 1 tsp: 440 IU
  • Sardines. 3 ounces: 164 IU
  • Salmon. 3 ounces: 400 IU
  • Mackerel. 3 ounces: 400 IU
  • Tuna. 3 ounces: 228 IU

Sun exposure, with your body unprotected by sunscreen, clothing or shade, for 20 minutes daily can also provide the vitamin D you need.  There’s a lot to still be known about Vitamin D but as with anything you put into your system, moderation always seems to be the key to staying healthy!  And of course if you can stomach it, a daily dose of cod liver oil will do the trick.

5 responses to “Melanoma Patients: How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?”

  1. Coincidentally, we posted on IG today a chart for the minimum daily requirements for Vitamin D and Calcium. Your blog is excellent. I have just liked and tweeted it.
    Maryellen Eisen
    Children’s Melanoma Prevention foundation

  2. Avatar Claudia says:

    Hi Catherine,
    It also matters where you are, I think Canadians are more likely to be deficient. The Canadian Cancer Society recommends 1000 IU. Wondered if you had any recommendations based on latitude?

  3. Avatar Eileen Berta says:

    Great article Catherine! I remember a conversation years ago with my Dr. Egan about how we were being overdosed (almost to toxicity) with Vit D at the time and measured against very ill defined “normal range” assignments. Hope you are doing well.

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