Dermatologists have successfully hammered Dr Berg Vitamin C one thought into all of us: sun exposure may cause skin cancer, so wear sunscreen while you’re out in the sun. What dermatologists don’t tell us is that the vitamin D we get from sunshine can also prevent serious cancers such as breast, colon, pancreatic and prostate cancers.
Mounting scientific evidence shows a strong link between vitamin D deficiency and cancer. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could prevent cancer by optimizing vitamin D level in the body? Even in patients with a diagnosis of cancer, proper vitamin D supplementation plays an important role in treating cancer and preventing its recurrence.
What promotes cancer growth?
In the last two decades, research has clearly shown two factors can promote growth of cancer: Vitamin D deficiency and Insulin Resistance Syndrome. First, let’s examine how cancer develops. In your body, old cells are constantly dying and fresh new cells are being born. In other words, there is a continuing cycle of death and birth of cells. There is also a fine balance between the death and the birth of cells.
Vitamin D is involved in the death of cells and insulin is involved in the growth of new cells. Now consider a scenario where vitamin D is low in the body and insulin level is high. Both of these factors cause a shift in the normal balance of the death and birth of cells. Low vitamin D causes a decrease in the death of cells and a high insulin level causes an increase in the growth of cells. The net result is an enormous increase in the number of cells. This is exactly what happens when you have cancer; an unlimited growth of abnormal cells in your body.
A high level of insulin is present in people with Insulin Resistance Syndrome (also known as Metabolic Syndrome). Briefly, Insulin Resistance Syndrome consists of obesity, hypertension, low HDL cholesterol, high triglycerides, pre-diabetes or diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome and high uric acid level. You don’t have to have all of these features. Just a couple of them are enough to have a diagnosis of Insulin Resistance Syndrome. Some complications of Insulin Resistance Syndrome include: coronary artery disease, stroke and fatty liver. For an in depth look at Insulin Resistance Syndrome, please read my book, “Take Charge of Your Diabetes.”
We could call Vitamin D deficiency and high insulin two important promoters of cancer. It’s interesting to note that Vitamin D deficiency has been shown to worsen Insulin Resistance Syndrome which results in a further increase in insulin level.
In addition, obesity, which often plays a central role in Insulin Resistance Syndrome, also causes vitamin D deficiency. Obesity is the obvious common denominator for insulin resistance and vitamin D deficiency. For a long time, physicians have known obesity to be a strong risk factor for cancer. Now we understand that Vitamin D deficiency and insulin resistance are two pathways for how obesity is linked to cancer. Both vitamin D deficiency and Insulin Resistance Syndrome have reached epidemic proportions, affecting hundreds of millions of people around the world. What’s alarming is that both vitamin D deficiency and Insulin Resistance Syndrome are getting worse. It is intuitive to predict that we will continue to see increasingly large numbers of cancer cases as time passes.
Can Vitamin D help in the treatment of cancer?
The answer is yes!
Vitamin D not only helps to prevent cancer, but it also helps in the treatment of cancer. A researcher from Harvard Medical School published an excellent article (3) in 2005 citing the enormous evidence which strongly supports the anti-cancer role of vitamin D supplementation in patients with colon cancer. In the case of breast cancer, the role of vitamin D as an anticancer agent is promising. In the case of prostate cancer, it appears that the more active form of vitamin D, known as 1,25, (OH)2 vitamin D, provides anti-cancer activity.
Amazingly, many oncologists don’t seriously consider the great anti-cancer benefits of vitamin D. Some oncologists who stay updated on current knowledge may casually recommend vitamin D to their patients. What I’ve seen in my patients is usually something like this: If a patient brings up the subject of vitamin D, the oncologist might say, “Yeah, it’s a good idea. You should take vitamin D.” Unfortunately, that’s often the end of the advice. Vitamin D level is not checked. Dosage amount is not discussed. The patient usually ends up taking vitamin D on their own at dose of 400 I.U. per day, which according to the bottle label, meets 100% of the daily recommended dose. When these patients come to see me for some other reason, such as diabetes, I check their vitamin D level. In most cases, their vitamin D level is low, despite being on the recommended dose of 400 I.U per day.
Niacinamide, also known as nicotinamide or Vitamin B3 has received a lot of attention in the world of skin care in the past couple of months. This ingredient was recently featured as a very promising anti-aging solution on the Dr. Oz Show and this has instantly sparked discussions throughout the web.By now, we’ve all heard about the great benefits of Vitamin B3 in all sorts of products ranging from anti-aging creams to skin whitening treatments. But, in the midst of all these claims, how can one be sure of what is real and what’s, well… just hearsay?
In the next couple of paragraphs, we’ll review together the scientific evidence that backs some of these claims but first let’s start with a quick introduction to niacinamide.
What is niacinamide and what does it do?
Niacinamide is part of the group B of vitamins and is also sometimes called vitamin B3. Vitamin B3 also exists in another wide spread form called niacin which is converted to niacinamide inside the body. Both forms of vitamin B3 essentially have the same benefits but niacin is well known for inducing unpleasant but harmless side effects such as flushing and warming of the skin. To avoid these, most skin care products are formulated with niacinamide which provides the same skin benefits but none of the side effects. The main function of niacinamide inside the body is to be a precursor of the coenzymes NAD and NADP. A precursor simply means a building block that the body utilizes to make other, usually larger and more useful compounds. NAD stands for Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide and is an extremely important coenzyme in all living cells and, like its close relative NADP, is involved in essential cellular functions.
But how exactly does it help your skin and is it really the cure-all type of ingredient that it is made to look like? Well the answer is yes… to some extent. One sure thing is that Niacinamide is one of the most researched ingredients in the skin care industry, certainly more so than others that are commonly used. But let’s see what science says about the most common niacinamide claims we’ve all heard about.
Claim 1: Niacinamide can lighten and correct skin tone. Scientific Evidence: Very Strong.
The evidence we have so far that niacinamide can lighten and unify skin tone is very strong and supported by dozens of independent researchers. The latest publication on the subject, which appeared last month in the Skin Research Technology Journal, found that niacinamide reduced the appearance of hyperpigmentation in a study on 42 Korean Women after 8 weeks of use (Lee et al. 2014). For those who may not be familiar with the term, hyperpigmentation is a medical name for spots or areas on your skin that are darker than the rest, such as for instance age spots. In 2013, another article showed that a 4% niacinamide product reduced axillar hyperpigmentation in a similar study performed on 24 women for a period of 9 weeks (Castanedo-Cazares et al. 2013). And in the last two decades, there are at least a dozen other articles with very similar findings which would be tedious to list. However, one article deserves mention. In 2011, a very important study showed that niacinamide does not only reduce hyperpigmentation, but that its effects are comparable to those of hydroquinone (Castanedo-Cázares JP et al. 2011). Now, hydroquinone is classically very effective at removing dark spots, but its side effects can be horrendous in some people, so much so that the FDA recently proposed an in depth investigation of hydroquinone leading to a possible removal from over the counter products in the future.
Claim 2: Niacinamide can help with acne. Scientific evidence: Very Strong.
There are over 2 dozen articles in peer-reviewed journals that have examined the effectiveness of niacinamide in the treatment of acne. The most improvement to date seems to occur in individuals with light to moderate acne and the reason seems to be two fold. On one hand, niacinamide can reduce facial sebum production (Draelos et al. 2006). At the same time, it also inhibits skin inflammation around zits leading to fewer and less intense red spots (Fivenson DP 2006). However the case may be, what is important is that niacinamide fares surprisingly well when compared to a standard acne treatment. Indeed, a recent study showed that topical niacinamide versus clindamycin, a prescription antibiotic, lead to the same improvement level in 40 patients with moderate acne (Khodaeiani et al. 2013). That is the strongest evidence so far that suggests that niacinamide may potentially be as good as some other common prescription therapies for acne.
Claim 3: Niacinamide can tighten and lift sagging skin. Scientific evidence: Weak to Moderate.
Although a considerable number of studies have examined the effect of niacinamide on wrinkles (see claim below) and on other global anti-aging signs, very few have looked at the effects on sagging skin. One way to measure improvements in drooping skin is to look at changes in skin elasticity. One such study published a decade ago found that beside improving skin sallowness, wrinkles and fine lines, niacinamide also increased skin elasticity in a sample of 50 women (Bissett DL et al. 2005). Now, we know that niacinamide improves the barrier function of skin and prevents loss of water, so this observed increase in elasticity may just be a side effect of its potent moisturizing abilities. Although the data is encouraging so far, more research is still needed to understand the effects of niacinamide on skin elasticity.
Claim 4: Niacinamide can minimize wrinkles. Scientific evidence: Strong.
The fact that niacinamide improves the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines is supported by numerous studies over the years. The most recent and also arguably one of the most important was published by JJ FU and colleagues in 2010. The authors compared a cosmetic product containing niacinamide in conjunction with peptides and retinol against the drug Tretinoin. For those who may not be familiar with this drug, Tretinoin is an acid derivative of retinol, in other words a compound that can be obtained from retinol after a chemical modification. Tretinoin is FDA approved for the treatment of wrinkles and can only be obtained through medical prescription. Therefore it represented the perfect benchmark for this study. So how well did the regimen containing niacinamide fare against Tretinoin? Incredibly well. As it turns out, the treatment containing niacinamide, peptides and retinol surpassed Tretinoin after 8 weeks, however this difference diminished later and both regimens lead to similar improvements at the end of the study after 24 weeks (Fu JJ et al. 2010). To top it all off, subjects tolerated (i.e. had less side effects) the non prescription formulation much better than the prescription drug.
Claim 5: Niacinamide can tighten pores. Scientific Evidence: Weak.
Although niacinamide may help reduce the appearance of acne (see claim 2), there is nothing to indicate that the appearance of normal pores, i.e. non-inflamed by a zit, can be shrunk by the use of niacinamide. The use of traditional astringents is still the best remedy in this case. This claim seems to have arisen from mostly anecdotal accounts, which does not mean it is not true; it only means that it is not supported by science… yet.
These are some of the most common hypes about niacinamide. Some say it is a miracle ingredient, some think it is a marketing fad. Ultimately, the scientific evidence overwhelmingly suggests that niacinamide may be, in most cases, one of the most important ingredients to look for in a skin care regimen.