Vitamin D Health Cancer

Though a cure for cancer remains elusive, there is a growing body of evidence that one vitamin may play a critical role in the lowering the likelihood that you’ll develop certain cancers. Sufficient levels of vitamin D – also known as the “sunshine vitamin” – have been linked to lower rates of breast, colon and prostate cancer.

But what is vitamin D? Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that helps your body absorb calcium. It also plays a role in regulating immune health and cell growth. The latter may explain why enough vitamin D seems to be connected with a lower risk of certain cancers.

Vitamin D and Breast Cancer

Several studies have suggested that there is a link between low vitamin D levels and an increased risk of breast cancer. One study found that women with high levels of vitamin D were 50 percent less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than those with lower levels of the vitamin. In addition, a recent study also looked at using supplemental vitamin D for cancer pain treatment. Researchers who studied a group of women with breast cancer found that those who received high levels of supplemental vitamin D on a weekly basis experienced a decrease in muscle and joint pain.

Despite these studies, the exact relationship between vitamin D and breast cancer remains unclear. For example, some doctors have speculated that breast cancer itself may lead to low vitamin D levels, not vice versa.

Vitamin D and Colon Cancer

A number of studies have indicated a link between vitamin D and colon cancer. In one, researchers at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute found that vitamin D played a role in helping the body detoxify certain chemicals known to cause colon cancer. And a 2008 study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that colon cancer patients with high levels of vitamin D in their blood were more likely to survive than those individuals with the lowest vitamin D levels.

Vitamin D and Prostate Cancer

There is some evidence that men who live in sunny climates, who therefore get a lot of vitamin D from sun exposure, are less likely to develop prostate cancer than those who live in northern climates. Men who have a vitamin deficiency in this area were also more likely to have an aggressive from of prostate cancer if they were diagnosed with the disease, according to the Physicians’ Health Study. Other studies, however, have found that there is no link between vitamin D and prostate cancer.

More research is needed to determine the exact connections between vitamin D and different types of cancer. While there is compelling evidence to suggest a link between vitamin D and certain cancers, there are currently no broad recommendations that people supplement their vitamin D intake. Instead, doctors suggest that people strive to get an adequate amount of vitamin D for optimal overall health. Currently, the Institute of Medicine recommends people get between 200 and 600 international units (IU) each day, depending on age.

Resources

Bankhead, C. (2009). SABCS: Vitamin D reduces aromatase inhibitor pain. Retrieved December 16, 2009, from the MedPage Today website: http://www.medpagetoday.com/MeetingCoverage/SABCS/17546.

BreastCancer.org Staff. (2009). Opinion on vitamin D and breast cancer? Retrieved December 16, 2009, from the BreastCancer.org website: http://www.breastcancer.org/news_research/ask_expert/06_2009/question_08.jsp.

Howard Hughes Medical Institute Staff. (2002). Vitamin D may be crucial in preventing colon cancer. Retrieved December 16, 2009, from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute website: http://www.hhmi.org/news/mangelsdorf2.html.

Johns Hopkins Health Alerts Staff. (2009). Vitamin D and prostate cancer. Retrieved December 16, 2009, from the Hopkins Health Alerts website: http://www.johnshopkinshealthalerts.com/reports/prostate_disorders/3115-1.html.

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2009). Vitamin D: Evidence. Retrieved December 16, 2009, from the Mayo Clinic website: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/vitamin-d/NS_patient-vitamind/DSECTION=evidence.

MSNBC Staff. (2006). “Sunshine vitamin” may ward off breast cancer. Retrieved December 16, 2009 from the MSNBC.com website: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12157671/.

National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements Staff. (2009). Dietary supplement fact sheet: Vitamin D. Retrieved December 16, 2009, from the National Institutes of Health website: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/vitamind.asp.

Reinberg, S. (2008). Vitamin D may promote colon cancer survival. Retrieved December 16, 2009, from the Washington Post website: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/19/AR2008061901307.html.