This year, an estimated 18,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with bladder cancer. Though women typically have a lower risk of developing the disease than men, it is still vitally important to recognize the risk exists and to be aware of ways to lessen or avoid it. Though there can be some unavoidable genetic or hereditary factors leading to the development of bladder cancer, there are also day-to-day lifestyle factors that can increase your risk. Smoking, exposure to environmental chemicals and insufficient hydration are all contributing factors.
A recent study has also linked low levels of vitamin D with an increased risk for developing bladder cancer. Researchers found that the cells that line the bladder were responsive to vitamin D, and it rendered them able to stimulate an immune response within the body. When triggered, the immune system plays a significant role in the prevention of cancer by identifying and killing any abnormal cells in the body before they have the chance to develop into cancer. When levels of vitamin D in the blood dropped too low, it prevented the bladder cells from triggering that immune response to the abnormal cells, thus leaving the opportunity for the cells to remain undetected and to eventually develop into bladder cancer.
Unlike genetic factors, which are unpreventable, the important thing to take away from risk factors related to lifestyle (of which vitamin D exposure can be included with) is that they are modifiable. This means that we have a choice as to whether we will engage in them. vitamin D is relatively “cheap and safe” as a preventative weapon in fighting bladder cancer, and therefore can have a positive impact the lives of many people.
The current U.S. recommended Daily Value of vitamin D is 600 International Units (IU) and 800 IU for those over 70 years of age. Some things you can you do to raise your vitamin D levels:
Sunlight: 80-90% of the vitamin D the body gets is from exposure to sunlight. The body manufactures vitamin D itself when its bare skin is exposed to sunlight, most importantly ultraviolet B rays (UVB). Though this sounds like a great reason to head straight to the beach, lying out to tan is not necessary and of course may increase the risk of skin cancer. Merely exposing your skin for half the amount of time it would take for it to turn pink is ample sunlight, and the more skin you expose the more vitamin D your body will make. Aim to get outside for at least a few minutes every day under the sun to make sure you’re getting your daily dose of rays.
Supplements: If you live in a place where you’re unable to get enough sunlight, or do not wish to expose your skin to the sun, taking a daily vitamin D supplement can be an alternative way to get the vitamin D you may be lacking. Supplements come in tablet or capsule form and can be taken at any time of the day. People with darker skin (who require more time in the sun to achieve the same Vitamin D-boosting effects) and older people may also benefit from a supplement.
Diet: Choosing a diet that supplies your body with an ample amount of vitamin D is another way to boost your levels. The following foods provide the best sources:
• Fatty fish like salmon, trout, tuna, and eel
• Foods fortified with Vitamin D- some dairy products, orange juice, cereals, and soymilk
Use this information to ensure you are getting the vitamin D your body needs to help protect itself from bladder cancer. Knowing this and other ways to minimize your risk by making healthier, informed lifestyle choices is vital for women everywhere.