Question:

I heard of a study that showed lower Vitamin D levels in people who are depressed. Does taking Vitamin D help with depression?

Answer: Vitamin D, the so-called sunshine vitamin, is the hottest vitamin under study these days, with studies coming out every month showing how supplemental D may protect against osteoporosis, heart disease, ovarian cancer, colon cancer, kidney cancer, prostate cancer, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, dementia, fatigue, psoriasis, tuberculosis, and colds/flu. Did you ever consider that colds and flu are worst in winter, the time of year when sunlight and Vitamin D levels are at their lowest?

Researchers have pointed out that there are a high amount of Vitamin D receptors within certain areas of the brain, and that damage to these areas through illness and disease is associated with depression, especially in the elderly. Also, lab mice bred to have their Vitamin D receptors blocked exhibit depression-like behaviors such as decreased activity, poorer test performance, and more anxiety.

There's no doubt that depressed people tend to stay indoors more, eat less nutritious meals, and be far less likely to take vitamin supplements that contain D. Those are all factors that can contribute to low levels of Vitamin D. While several studies have pointed out the association between low Vitamin D levels and a higher incidence of depression, it is difficult to say with certainty that folks are depressed because their D levels are low or that supplementation with Vitamin D can improve one's mood. That said, we all feel better after a warm day full of sunshine.

nolead begins

Risk of a second cancer after thyroid cancer

Q:

I had thyroid cancer 11 years ago that's now in remission. I'm a 38-year-old mother who has been concerned about the risk of getting a second cancer, especially breast cancer. How much greater is the risk compared with a woman my age who has never had cancer?

A: Within the first 10 years after developing thyroid cancer, there's a slightly greater risk of developing a second cancer of the breast, kidney, salivary gland, head and neck, lung, esophagus and bladder, and Hodgkin's lymphoma and leukemia. But before you panic, let me give you a few statistics for perspective: Researchers from the University of Utah investigated the risk of non-thyroid second new cancers after thyroid cancer in more than 30,000 patients diagnosed between 1973 and 2002. They found that there were only about 6.5 additional cancers diagnosed per 10,000 persons per year. When you look at a subgroup of women in the 25-to-49 age group when originally diagnosed with thyroid cancer, there were only four additional cases of breast cancer per 10,000 persons per year.

You have been in remission for more than 10 years. The research seems to show that the increased risk of developing a second cancer is nearly gone after 10 years. To be cautious, experts recommend that women under 40 who have had thyroid cancer perform routine monthly breast self-exams, get an annual breast exam by their health care provider, and begin annual screening mammograms within three years of their thyroid cancer diagnosis.

Mitchell Hecht specializes in internal medicine. Send questions to him at: "Ask Dr. H.," Box 767787, Atlanta, Ga. 30076. Due to the large volume of mail received, personal replies are not possible.