02/07/2012 11:11 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Vitamin D and Cancer Treatment


I had three bouts of melanoma. The first was a mole on my arm that was removed. The second was a few years later when it appeared in my lymph nodes, and the third was metastases to my brain, lungs, spleen and stomach. The second time I was ill I went on an intense 18-month dietary regime called The Gerson Therapy, which involved 13 vegetable juices and five coffee enemas per day (yes, five!). It was a huge undertaking, but this particular therapy had good results with melanoma so I wanted to give it a go. Its purpose was to detoxify the system and support the immune system to do the job it is designed to do.

Unfortunately, all that juicing and enema-ing didn't completely rid my body of melanoma (though it probably kept it at bay) and when it returned five years later it was with all guns blazing. Given that chemotherapy doesn't really do much for melanoma and my own natural antipathy to chemicals, I found an extraordinary naturopathic oncologist (Dr. Etienne Callebout) who put me on another strict regime, this time with up to 122 supplements a day -- plus the obligatory juices and enemas. I also had radiotherapy to my brain.

Amazingly, the tumours really responded and started to recede very quickly. Within the year (2002) I was pretty much clear of cancer. I also did a lot to supplement the dietary regime, including working on old emotional patterns and beliefs. I also asked for and received all kinds of spiritual assistance, including being prayed for by people of all religions and traditions.

It does sound like a dreadful cliché, I know, but the truth is I found a massive blessing in facing and recovering from cancer. To look at death as a real (even likely) possibility and emerge from that meeting to live another day is a profound experience not many of us get, but for which I am hugely grateful.

As someone who has had melanoma, the sun has been significant in my life since my diagnosis and recovery. In other words, I've avoided it. But it now seems that might not have been entirely wise as it has deprived my system of Vitamin D, which is being increasingly heralded as powerful in cancer prevention and treatment. What's more, according to Holick in the New England Journal of Medicine, an estimated 1 billion people worldwide, across all ethnicities and age groups, have a vitamin D deficiency -- mostly attributable to people getting less sun exposure because of climate, lifestyle, and -- ironically -- concerns about skin cancer.

Vitamin D is important with cancer generally because it decreases cell proliferation and increases cell differentiation, stops the growth of new blood vessels, and has significant anti-inflammatory effects. All good stuff for those rogue cells.

Specifically regarding melanoma there have been a number of studies that suggest that Vitamin D may be important in melanoma development and progression. According to Reichrath, in Experimental Dermatology in 2007, in vitro, some melanoma cell lines have been responsive to the anti-proliferative and pro-differentiation effects of vitamin D. He called the vitamin "our ancient friend." In addition, a large case control study of more than 1,000 patients found that dietary Vitamin D intake reduced the risk of developing melanoma (Millen, Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers, 2004).

And it isn't just melanoma. A Creighton University, Nebraska study found that post-menopausal women given 1,100 IU of vitamin D3 (plus calcium) versus placebo were 77 percent less likely to be diagnosed with cancer over the next four years. In the Harvard-based Health Professionals Follow-up Study on nutrition in serious illness in men, subjects with high vitamin D concentrations were half as likely to be diagnosed with colon cancer as those with low concentrations.

The drug companies are onto it, too. Memorial Sloan-Kettering was been involved in a Phase III clinical trial where a synthetically made, concentrated form of vitamin D called Asentar, which was thought to improve the survival times of patients with prostate cancer. Asentar has not been licensed and was at the centre of a disagreement between drug companies, but the point is the drug companies are aware of -- and experimenting with -- the potential of Vitamin D as a cancer therapy.

Vitamin D is an umbrella term for a number of fat-soluble chemicals. The one that has the same positive action as the sun is Vitamin D3. But how much should you be taking? Although I would always prefer to get my vitamins through what I eat, there are few foods that contain it in any reasonable quantities. There is a small amount in dairy foods and also in some fish oils. And as I live in England I can't get it from the sun! So for me a supplement is the only way to guarantee I have it. I take a supplement of 500iu each day. Reinhold Veith of the University of Toronto, who has been studying Vitamin D for his entire career, wrote in the American Journal of Nutrition that the safe upper level for Vitamin D is 10,000IU. In an interview with the university's magazine, he stated that "I believe we should pay as much attention to vitamin D as we do to cholesterol."

There seems to be so much evidence out there of the efficacy of Vitamin D, not just with cancer but with many other conditions -- even flu! -- that it certainly seems like a pill worth popping.

Photo: Ginny Fraser during treatment

UK-based Ginny Fraser was diagnosed with Stage IV melanoma back in 2001. Her prognosis was not good -- she was given six months to live. She recovered against the odds using a mostly naturopathic regime. She now writes on alternative approaches to cancer treatment for icon magazine, and last year her book "Overcoming Cancer: 24 True Stories of Triumph and Hope" was published by Health Issues. As a qualified coach, she also coaches people with a cancer diagnosis.

Read the full story of how she got better on her website .

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