Vitamin D, Allergies and Melanoma

Vitamin D has hit the headlines again. This time low vitamin D levels are associated with allergies and melanoma. Melanoma? But we have been told to stay out of the sun!

Melbourne is hosting the International Congress of Immunology this week. Why not, it is the “World’s most liveable city”. However, it has another title, that of having the highest incidence of allergies in its children in the world! One in ten children suffer from allergies. This research into children’s allergies has been reported by the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute in Melbourne. “We are leading the way because we have a massive problem,” Professor Allen said. “Australia does appear to be the food allergy capital of the world.”

Murdoch Childrens researchers are global leaders in research which seeks to uncover the evolution of the food allergy epidemic. Professor Allen leads six allergy studies at the Institute; one of these is the HealthNuts study which involves 5300 infants and is the largest population based study of food allergy ever mounted. It is through this study that researchers have concluded that the rise in allergies is most likely a result of our modern lifestyle. Results from the study have generated five hypotheses relating to increases in the prevalence of food allergy that, Professor Allen says, can be summarised simply as diet, dogs, dirt, vitamin D and dry skin.

A “piece of the puzzle” was vitamin D and the possibility that Australians were more prone to allergy because we are the only developed country in the world that does not add it to our milk. “We’ve found in previous studies that children with food allergy are more likely to have low vitamin D levels,” Professor Allen said.

So in a country that has so much sun exposure that we are continuously told to cover up and stay out of the sun, due to the dangers of melanoma, we are now the world capital for food allergies, and apparently one of the risk factors is low vitamin D. Reason? Because we are the only developed country that does not fortify our milk with vitamin D. Just think about that statement for a minute. Is it just me or is it ludicrous to suggest we stay out of the sun yet need to fortify our milk so that we get enough vitamin D?

Research by the Murdoch Childrens Institute has found infants who are vitamin D deficient were three times more likely to have an egg allergy and 11 times more likely to have a peanut allergy. Those with vitamin D deficiency were also more likely to have multiple rather than single food allergies, with the odds increasing to 10 times more likely among those with two or more food allergies. Researchers at the Institute are now undertaking a study which aims to find out if vitamin D supplements in the first year of life reduces the risk of food allergy and other early life illnesses such as wheezy bronchiolitis.

I find it interesting that if vitamin D is so important, why is no one is looking into maternal vitamin D levels and the levels of vitamin D in infants at birth? You would think that vitamin D would have an important role in imprinting the developing immune system in the womb and while breastfeeding. How many women get tested for vitamin D prior to getting pregnant?

I know there is fear of sun exposure and melanoma. But wait there is more!

At the 2016 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Dr Jeffrey Lee, professor and chair of the Department of Surgical Oncology at the University of Texas discussed the importance of vitamin D and cancer, including melanoma.

“Vitamin D has important anti-inflammatory properties, and there was preliminary information that suggested that vitamin D might be important in controlling an individual’s response to cancer, including melanoma.”

“Information from a number of preliminary studies suggested that low vitamin D levels in patients with a variety of cancers might be bad. In other words, patients with low vitamin D levels might be at higher risk of developing cancer, having cancer progress, or dying of cancer, including in melanoma.”

“We also found that lower levels of vitamin D were linked to more severe forms of melanoma at presentation. Patients with low vitamin D levels were more likely to have thicker tumors and higher-stage disease than patients with higher levels of vitamin D.”

“There are other factors that control vitamin D, such as systemic inflammation. Individuals with even low levels of chronic inflammation will have low levels of vitamin D, even if they are getting what we would consider to be sufficient or even excessive sun exposure—and sometimes even if they are taking vitamin D supplements.”

“We think that measuring and, perhaps in the future, moderating inflammatory responses through vitamin D supplementation and other methods may be an important way that we can improve response rates to immunotherapies and other treatments for melanoma and other cancers.”

“There is at least one prospective trial that is going on now in Europe in patients with intermediate- to high-risk melanoma to see whether supplementation with vitamin D will reduce the chances of their melanomas returning or progressing.”

Vitamin D is so important for our health and wellbeing, yet the advice we are given in Australia is to stay out of the sun. Authorities have removed vitamin D testing from the Medicare rebate so less of the population is tested for vitamin D, unless you are prepared to pay for the test. I hate to think what Melbourne will be the capital of in 20 years time!

Anyone that has been reading my newsletters will know that I am a big advocate to get your vitamin D levels checked, and to maintain them at adequate levels.

Why Melbourne is the food allergy capital of the world.

The Five “Ds” of food allergy.

Kathy D. Miller, Jeffrey E. Lee. Vitamin D: A New Intervention for Melanoma? Medscape. Jul 29, 2016.

Previous articles on Vitamin D

Higher Vitamin D Levels and Lower Cancer Risk

Vitamin D and Skin Cancer