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Worried about melanoma risk?
New research shows women who take vitamin A lower their risk.
In the June 2012 issue of the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, Maryam Asgari reported that women taking vitamin A have a 73% lower risk of getting melanoma than women who not taking it. The effect was less in men, a 17% reduction in risk, which was not statistically significant.
Asgari works for Kaiser Permanante in Oakland, California while her coauthors, Ted Brasky and Emily White, are from the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center. Together, they analyzed data collected from the the VITamins And Lifestyle (VITAL) cohort study. This VITAL cohort study is a large project that has tracked the vitamin and supplement intake of 69,635 adults living in 13 counties in Washington State for years. Health data on the participants has also been compiled over time. Scientists now evaluate the combined data looking for associations between vitamin intake and health.
Asgari, Brasky and White looked for an effect because vitamin A controls cell differentiation and proliferation preventing cells from becoming cancerous: in a test tube, vitamin A prevents melanoma cells from growing.
The benefit seen in the data is worth repetition: Asgari reported that women taking vitamin A had about a quarter of the risk of getting melanoma as women not taking it.
Neither vitamin A taken in from food nor beta-carotene from food or supplements appeared to lower cancer risk in this study. The low doses found in common multivitamins had no measurable impact either. Benefit was only observed in those taking vitamin A in pill form at doses greater than 4,000 IU/day.
If members of your family have been diagnosed with melanoma or if you have fair skin or red hair, or have a history of multiple severe sunburns, you could be at higher than average risk of melanoma. If you are, you should talk to your healthcare provider about taking a vitamin A supplement.
High doses of vitamin A taken over extended periods are potentially unhealthy. High doses are typically defined as 250,000 IU in a single dose or 50,000 IU daily over time. Reactions vary and some people respond negatively to smaller amounts as low as a single dose of 20,000 IU. Birth defects have been reported in infants whose mothers took doses of 40,000 IU/day during pregnancy.
It is common to use beta-carotene as a substitute for vitamin A as it is considered safe in high doses and will be converted to vitamin A in the body. Unfortunately Asgari’s team found no protection against melanoma in people taking beta-carotene supplements. If you want protection against melanoma you need to take real vitamin A.
Vitamin A doses up to 10,000 IU/day are generally considered safe to use so if you want to lower risk of melanoma you should take a daily dose of vitamin A, more than 4,000 and less than 10,000 IU.
Link to full text of the study
So, Vitamin A, huh? Well, I don't take supplemental Vitamin pills, for many reasons, but mostly because I try to get all my nutrients from good, whole, nutrient dense foods instead since it's easier to absorb those nutrients. Especially since I have little ones around, and want to keep overdose possibilities to a minimum. So, where can you find Vitamin A other than in a supplemental vitamin pill? (Oh, and I mean actual Vitamin A, also known as Retinol, not Beta-Carotene, which is the vegetable source of Vitamin A, in that it helps your body make it's own but doesn't provide the same benefits as the actual Vitamin. Retinol is the form of vitamin A absorbed when eating animal food sources, is a yellow, fat-soluble substance. )
Good Vitamin A Sources:
Pastured Meats, especially red meat
Grass Feed whole milk. (NOT fat free- Vitamin A is fat soluble, so the less fat, the less VitA)
Grass Feed butter. You know it's grass fed because it's YELLOW, not white!
Cod Liver Oil
Liver (which has the most, by a long mile)
So this summer, along with an all natural mineral based sunscreen, we will be adding more liver and will be re-adding Cod Liver Oil to our diets to try and keep our kiddos skin (and mine)