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Calcium and vitamin D. Their potential roles in colon and breast cancer prevention.

The geographic distribution of colon cancer is similar to the historical geographic distribution of rickets. The highest death rates from colon cancer occur in areas that had high prevalence rates of rickets--regions with winter ultraviolet radiation deficiency, generally due to a combination of high or moderately high latitude, high-sulfur content air pollution (acid haze), higher than average stratospheric ozone thickness, and persistently thick winter cloud cover. The geographic distribution of colon cancer mortality rates reveals significantly low death rates at low latitudes in the United States and significantly high rates in the industrialized Northeast. The Northeast has a combination of latitude, climate, and air pollution that prevents any synthesis of vitamin D during a five-month vitamin D winter. Breast cancer death rates in white women also rise with distance from the equator and are highest in areas with long vitamin D winters. Colon cancer incidence rates also have been shown to be inversely proportional to intake of calcium. These findings, which are consistent with laboratory results, indicate that most cases of colon cancer may be prevented with regular intake of calcium in the range of 1,800 mg per day, in a dietary context that includes 800 IU per day (20 micrograms) of vitamin D3. (In women, an intake of approximately 1,000 mg of calcium per 1,000 kcal of energy with 800 IU of vitamin D would be sufficient.) In observational studies, the source of approximately 90% of the calcium intake was vitamin D-fortified milk. Vitamin D may also be obtained from fatty fish. In addition to reduction of incidence and mortality rates from colon cancer, epidemiological data suggest that intake of 800 IU/day of vitamin D may be associated with enhanced survival rates among breast cancer cases.

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