After defeating breast cancer and spending years studying how to help others prevent a diagnosis, Carole Baggerly found her answer in something already present in the human body — Vitamin D.
The Leucadia resident, who had breast cancer in 2005, stumbled upon a study in 2007 that said a sufficient amount of Vitamin D — which is responsible for increasing intestinal absorption of calcium, magnesium and phosphate — could help in the prevention of breast cancer about 50 percent of the time.
Baggerly, who formerly ran an aerospace company before retiring in 2001, remembers feeling shocked and relieved that something could help people avoid the disease and its treatments, including radiation, which can do more harm than good. (Baggerly said she's still suffering from problems with her lungs and heart as a result of the chemotherapy she received more than a decade ago.)
Upon discovering research on Vitamin D, she began partnering with a group of like-minded scientists (now 48 researchers strong) through a nonprofit called Grassrootshealth, which works to share how an appropriate level of the vitamin can be beneficial to the human body. A body has a Vitamin D deficiency if it is not within the recommended 40-to-60 nanograms per milliliter, according to Grassrootshealth.
Research has found that proper Vitamin D levels can also help prevent pre-term birth and Type 1 Diabetes, in addition to certain cancers and other health ailments.
At first, the organization hosted seminars with physicians, but Baggerly quickly learned that wouldn't be the fastest way to change people's thoughts on Vitamin D since the idea was still fairly new to the medical community and doctors didn't tend to order such tests for their patients.
So, Grassrootshealth launched the D*action field trial to solve the Vitamin D deficiency epidemic worldwide. So far, about 15,000 people from all over the world have participated by sending in blood spot tests to a partnered lab, Baggerly said. In 2012, Grassrootshealth also launched Protect Our Children NOW! – a project designed to end vitamin D deficiency where it starts – in utero.
Interested participants can join in on the crowd-funded research project for $65 per person. The cost also includes an "extensive personal health system," as Baggerly referred to it.
The testing works by participants mailing in blood droplets to a lab that processes them for results, similar to other health tests. Results are available within seven to 10 days of sending in the blood for testing, according to the organization's website.
Grassrootshealth's goal is to make people more aware of the power that Vitamin D can hold for overall health, Baggerly said.
"We're not running a randomized control trial, but we're really taking the message out and monitoring responses," she explained.
Baggerly said those interested in monitoring their Vitamin D levels should get tested once a year, as levels can fluctuate. She encourages people of all ages to be in-the-know about what their Vitamin D levels should be.
She said she's hopeful the research will gain traction in the medical community and Vitamin D testing is eventually thought of on the same level as routine procedures like mammograms and pap smears to check for abnormalities.
Baggerly is also looking for Grassrootshealth to be a part of a breast cancer prevention project in San Diego.
While she's excited to see a movement, she also said more needs to be done in general.
"On the one hand, I'm extremely excited and rewarded about it and very excited for all of our participants," she said. "From time to time, I get very discouraged at the institutional lethargy, which is like, 'Oh no, we can't do that now.' Our main appeal, still, is to the individual people who read about us, see about us, whatever and say they're going to do it because they can. They don't have to do it through a doctor. We're part of that self-help healthcare movement."
For more information, visit www.grassrootshealth.net.