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Information on the latest vitamin D news and research.

Find out more information on deficiency, supplementation, sun exposure, and how vitamin D relates to your health.

A closer look at the skin cancer-Alzheimer’s link

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a terrible disease. Initial clinic signs and symptoms vary. Early symptoms are often chalked up to aging or stress. The most common early symptom is trouble remembering recent events. As AD advances, symptoms can include confusion, language problems, irritability, aggression, mood swings, and loss of memory for remote events. As the patient worsens they often withdraw from family and can’t recognize their own relatives. As the brain deteriorates, bodily functions are lost, leading to death.

In the year 2000 in the United States, AD prevalence was estimated to be almost 2% in the 65–74 age group, with the rate increasing to 19% in the 75–84 group and increasing up to 42% in the older than 84 group. It is often said that if you live long enough, you will get AD. To my knowledge, no studies have looked at latitude and AD, nor have any looked to see how common it is around the equator. It is more common among African Americans.

What about AD and sunshine? We all know by now that one bad thing sunshine does is increases our risk of skin cancer, in particular non melanoma skin cancer (NMSC). The more sunshine you get, the more squamous cells and basal cells skin cancers risk you have. Unlike melanoma, NMSC is more common on sun exposed areas of your body, such as the face and hands, and is more common among outdoor workers than indoor workers. While NMSC is common, it’s very almost always  completely treatable.

Recently, Doctor Robert White, working with senior author Professor Joshua Steinerman, both of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, discovered that NMSC is  highly correlated with a reduction in risk of AD.

Robert RS, White RS, Lipton RB, Hall CB and Steinerman JR. Nonmelanoma skin cancer is associated with reduced Alzheimer disease risk. Neurology. 2013 May 15.

We reported on this in our news section, too. 

They studied 1,102 adults with a mean age of 79 years for an average of 3.7 years. A total of 141 subjects reported NMSC and 100 participants were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dementia. NMSC was associated with reduced risk of  AD (hazard ratio 0.21), which means that NMSC appears to be extremely effective in preventing AD. Patients with NMSC were about 5 times less likely to get AD than were patients without NMSC. So for now, skin cancer appears to protect you from developing AD.

The authors had no good explanation for their finding but as NMSC is associated with sunlight and sunlight is associated with vitamin D, this study supports the vitamin D hypothesis that vitamin D may help in preventing AD.

The results of this study were so stunning, the effect size was so great, that it may be that vitamin D alone does not explain it. It may be that sunshine has benefits other than vitamin D that helps prevent AD. So be sure and get your sunshine while it is warm.

  About: John Cannell, MD

Dr. John Cannell is founder of the Vitamin D Council. He has written many peer-reviewed papers on vitamin D and speaks frequently across the United States on the subject. Dr. Cannell holds an M.D. and has served the medical field as a general practitioner, emergency physician, and psychiatrist.

13 Responses to A closer look at the skin cancer-Alzheimer’s link

  1. drfitness says:

    Nice study.
    But, you cannot say NMSC prevents AD.
    There is correlation, but not causation.
    Many other lifestyle factors come into play. NMSC patients may be more active, non smokers, non obese, better nutrition, vit/min supplementation, all associated with lower latitudes.
    Sunscreen chemical absorption may be a factor as well.
    Maybe the study should have specifically looked at Vit d serum levels.

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  2. Brant Cebulla says:

    Point taken drfitness.

    Be sure to check out our past articles on the link between vitamin D and Alzheimer’s. There has been some interesting research to date: http://phpstack-823148-2829364.cloudwaysapps.com/tag/alzheimers-disease/

    I know there is a randomized controlled trial underway using vitamin D for people with moderate Alzheimer’s to see if vitamin D can slow disease progression. None of the large vitamin D trials underway (VITAL, FIND, etc..) are looking if vitamin D prevents Alzheimer’s as a primary outcome. I’m not aware if they’re looking at it as a secondary outcome.

    Cheers, Brant

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  3. Rita and Misty says:

    “The results of this study were so stunning, the effect size was so great, that it may be that vitamin D alone does not explain it. It may be that sunshine has benefits other than vitamin D that helps prevent AD….”

    Sun-dependent pathways:


    1. Melatonin
    2. Serontonin
    3. Direct immune suppression

    Melatonin and Alzheimer’s disease:


    “Melatonin secretion decreases in Alzheimer´s disease (AD) and this decrease has been postulated as responsible for the circadian disorganization, decrease in sleep efficiency and impaired cognitive function seen in those patients. Half of severely ill AD patients develop chronobiological day-night rhythm disturbances like an agitated behavior during the evening hours (so-called “sundowning”). Melatonin replacement has been shown effective to treat sundowning and other sleep wake disorders in AD patients. The antioxidant, mitochondrial and antiamyloidogenic effects of melatonin indicate its potentiality to interfere with the onset of the disease. This is of particularly importance in mild cognitive impairment (MCI), an etiologically heterogeneous syndrome that precedes dementia. The aim of this manuscript was to assess published evidence of the efficacy of melatonin to treat AD and MCI patients. PubMed was searched using Entrez for articles including clinical trials and published up to 15 January 2010. Search terms were “Alzheimer” and “melatonin”. Full publications were obtained and references were checked for additional material where appropriate. Only clinical studies with empirical treatment data were reviewed. The analysis of published evidence made it possible to postulate melatonin as a useful ad-on therapeutic tool in MCI. In the case of AD, larger randomized controlled trials are necessary to yield evidence of effectiveness (i.e. clinical and subjective relevance) before melatonin´s use can be advocated.”

    Serotonin and Alzheimer’s disease:


    “Mounting evidence accumulated over the past few years indicates that the neurotransmitter serotonin plays a significant role in cognition. As a drug target, serotonin receptors have received notable attention due in particular to the role of several serotonin-receptor subclasses in cognition and memory. The intimate anatomical and neurochemical association of the serotonergic system with brain areas that regulate memory and learning has directed current drug discovery programmes to focus on this system as a major therapeutic drug target. Thus far, none of these programmes has yielded unambiguous data that suggest that any of the new drug entities possesses disease-modifying properties, and significantly more research in this promising area of investigation is required. Compounds are currently being investigated for activity against serotonin 5-HT(1), 5-HT(4) and 5-HT(6) receptors. This review concludes that most work done in the development of selective serotonin receptor ligands is in the pre-clinical or early clinical phase. Also, while many of these compounds will likely find application as adjuvant therapy in the symptomatic treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, there are currently only a few drug entities with activity against serotonin receptors that may offer the potential to alter the progression of the disease.”

    Pro-inflammatory cytokines and neuronal death:


    “Increasing concurrent evidence suggests that inflammation significantly contributes to the pathogenesis of AD. The generation and secretion of proinflammatory mediators may interact at multiple levels with neurodegeneration. Thus, proinflammatory cytokines may not only contribute to neuronal death, but they might also influence classical neurodegenerative pathways such as APP processing and τ phosphorylation.The concomitant release of anti-inflammatory mediators may partly antagonize this action ultimately leading to chronic disease. Future studies need to determine whether the course of AD can be influenced by anti-inflammatory treatment strategies, and clinically novel approaches to analyze early neuroinflammation in the human brain are needed to improve how to monitor and control treatment strategies that are targeting inflammatory mechanisms.”

    Vitamin D as anti-inflammatory agent


    “This newly identified DNA-binding site for the vitamin-D receptor, and the specific pathways inhibited by higher levels of vitamin D provide a plausible mechanism for many of the benefits that have been associated with vitamin D,” said Dr. Goleva. ‘The fact that we showed a dose-dependent and varying response to levels commonly found in humans also adds weight to the argument for vitamin D’s role in immune and inflammatory conditions.”

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  4. Rita and Misty says:

    Dr. Cannell, Dr. Grant, Brant, Kate and others in the VDC community….

    Research on dementia (and related disorders) is of great interest to me…actually it a very personal matter to me, as my dad died from LBD 16 years ago.

    Wouldn’t it be awesome if sunlight held the answer?

    I hope that we can keep the dialogue going on this thread (life is all about hope).

    Thanks for all your great work…

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  5. Magic says:

    Rita and Misty,

    We have had a marvelous spring here in Eugene, Oregon. I have had the opportunity to sit in the back yard with my shirt off and get a marvelous tan in a short time. Due to intense study I have taken large amounts of D3 on occasion, up to 35,000 a day for a few days. I have had skin cancer for around eight years stemming from X-ray treatments I was given to clear up a skin problem I had in high school. (The doctors told my mother after the fact that the treatment could cause skin cancer in 35-40 years0. They were wrong. It took longer. Seven years ago I had numerous basal cell carcinoma and one squamous cell removed.. (Lots of bandages all over my face and head..) Three years ago I had more work done. When my primary care doctor suggested seeing my dermotolo
    gist again a year ago I instead went for more vitamin D3. (I felt the problem was starting to improve.) It has taken a long time but I am about 95% clear now. Lots of the scars have disappeared

    Interesting fact……….I use NO SUN SCREEN… I do not burn. …(I will be 80 in February.)

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  6. Rita and Misty says:

    Dear Magic…I envy your marvelous spring…the weather in Connecticut is humid, gray and rainy right now…not very conducive to sunbathing…imo….

    During fall, winter and spring, I take 28,000 iu d3 daily…

    In summer, I drop down to 16,000 iu d3 daily, with approximately 2.5 hours of high noon sun (Connecticut’s version of sun).

    I am trying to maintain a 25(OH)D level of 100 ng/ml.
    I’m due for a blood test soon, so we’ll see how my protocol works.
    BTW–maintaining 100 ng/ml is my own personal choice, based upon my own research, particular set of health conditions, and my own personal ideas, including keeping dementia at bay. :)

    I feel much better since my 25(OH)D level has reached and surpassed 74 ng/ml.

    All of my ailments have subsided; and, I was definitely on a collision course with poor health.

    I too do not burn.

    I can sit outside under full and direct summer sunlight (sans sunscreen) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and I will not burn. But again, we are talking about central Connecticut. Can we even call this sun?

    BTW–I find it inspirational that at age 80 you are jogging 4 miles at a time. My mom just turned 85, and she walks 4 miles at a time. :)

    Be well,
    Rita (and Misty)

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  7. Magic says:

    Dear Rita……..and Misty.

    Have I missed something? Is Misty perhaps a friendly dog? I have a cocker spaniel, brittany, two year old who gets at least twice the mileage I do.

    I love your note. I am almost embarrassed to include all of the benefits I think I get from D3.
    I always send people to this site. VERY FEW make it. Lots of people are taking D3 whom I meet at the dog park.. I am sure they would do even better if they got the full story and include the other vitamins to go with it.

    Arthritis is a big one that older people mostly have but D3 users seem not to….That is if they take enough. I wouldn’t think you have it. Maybe you aren’t older either….lol.

    If I seem to have a problem I raise my dose until it subsides.. But I really do not have a problem anymore.

    One point I would like to make. I think the sun is clearing up my skin faster than the pills.

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  8. Rita and Misty says:

    Greetings Magic,

    You are absolutely correct: Misty is indeed a very friendly dog! She is the redhead to the right in my profile picture.

    Rita is the redhead proudly wearing the blue VDC tee shirt.

    My mom isn’t in my profile picture; but, she does take vitamin d3 supplements. She takes 10,000 iu d3 daily to maintain a 25(OH)D level of approximately 80 ng/ml.

    At 85 years of age, her bones are in excellent health. At one time she did have osteopenia. She does not have any bone disease at all now; and (I stress) she is not on any prescription bone meds….though she has been in the past.

    Her mantra is d3, 20+ nutrients, an alkalized body, and resistance exercise. She also makes bone broth, and drinks this daily.

    My mom walks her talk–literally and figuratively.

    Yes, she has broken bones twice: her wrist while walking a neighbor’s German Shepherd; and her ankle while rock climbing (this is true). Both times, her doctors were amazed at how quickly her bones healed.

    Neither my elderly mom nor I have arthritis.

    Misty, who takes 4,000 iu d3 weekly, does have some stiffness…but I tend to think her stiffness is due to bouts of Lyme disease.

    Magic, I am a firm believer in the power of sunshine and in the power of vitamin d3.

    May you be healthy, happy and productive!

    Rita Celone

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  9. Hi, Magic and Rita and Misty

    I’ve just been diagnosed with a basal cell carcinoma right above an eyebrow. The dermotologist referred me to a plastic surgeon who wants to use the Moh’s microsurgery procedure where bits of tissue are removed until normal tissue is reached. I’m worried about a serious scar and also not sure if I should be staying out of the sun or getting sun. I’ve been taking about 10000 IU D3 for a couple of years – and no longer burn. I’m not really pale, but freckle and have had a number of sunburns over the years. Ideas?


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  10. Rita and Misty says:

    Greetings Sophie,

    I am a Keloid healer, so I do sympathize with your scar concerns.

    Mohs will leave a scar; but from my understanding of the procedure, it appears that the scar will soften with time.

    Here is a good link on this subject.


    Although I am not a healthcare professional, I spend quite a bit of time researching vitamin d, sunlight, and various health conditions. My reading leads me to think that we all require appropriate sun exposure…even those with skin cancer.

    (I hope VDC will respond here on this very important topic…)

    BTW, I have also experienced the same phenomena as you: since my 25(OH)D level reached 74 ng/ml, I just don’t burn anymore.

    Yesterday, I spent 2 hours in the full Connecticut sun (from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m.). I did not burn. I did not turn pink. I barely tanned. I did freckle (but that’s okay by me).

    I am skin level 2.

    Be well,
    Rita (and Misty)

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  11. Magic says:

    Rita and Misty,

    I find it incredible that you can get a full two hours of sunshine from 12:30 to 2 pm. Gotta be Connecticut.

    Seriously, I tan quickly and “deep.” I do not burn.

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  12. Rita and Misty says:

    Magic~~this is why I always state: Connecticut’s version of sun… it’s just awful for a girl who likes to imitate iguanas…. Be well, Rita

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  13. Magic says:


    I cannot believe it. A retired nurse told me today that she was developing a tumor near her eye. She had done what you described. I had never heard of the problem before. If she hadn’t told me I wouldn’t have noticed it.

    My immediate reaction if it happened to me would be to take more D3 because I believe it would shrink it. (Actually, I don’t believe it would happen to me because I found D3.) lol.

    Best, Sophie get Dr Cannell’s opinion..

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