Posted on Feb 25, 2020, 4 p.m.
According to research from Michigan State University published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology supplementing with vitamin D helped to prolong the lifespan of cancer patients if it was taken for at least three years.
“Vitamin D had a significant effect on lowering the risk of death among those with cancer,” explained lead author Dr. Tarek Haykal, an internal medicine resident physician at MSU and Hurley Medical Center. “But unfortunately it didn’t show any proof that it could protect against getting cancer.”
Data was analyzed from close to 80,000 cancer patients with an average age of 68 years old from 10 randomized controlled trials focusing on the use of vitamin D supplementation and the effects on risk of cancer and death over a period of at least 3 years. Vitamin D supplementation was found to be associated with a significant reduction of cancer related deaths when compared to placebo, but it did not decrease the number of incidences of cancer.
“The difference in the mortality rate between the vitamin D and placebo groups was statistically significant enough that it showed just how important it might be among the cancer population,” explained lead author Dr. Tarek Haykal.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention cancer is the second leading cause of death in America, and research shows that the rate of vitamin D deficiency is high in the United States. Over 1.7 million new cancer cases were diagnosed with almost 610,000 dying from the disease during 2018 in America, and globally there were 14.1 million new cases in 2012 with over 8.2 million cancer related deaths according to figures from the National Cancer Institute.
“While the data described are interesting, there needs to be more careful analysis of whether cancer-related mortality was decreased for all cancer types, or for specific diagnoses, age ranges, ethnicities, etc., before considering whether it should be used to lower global cancer mortality,” Joya Chandra, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics, epigenetics, and molecular carcinogenesis at the University of Texas-MD Anderson Cancer Center and co-director of MD Anderson’s Center for Energy Balance in Cancer Prevention & Survivorship.
Dr. Wasif M. Saif, deputy physician-in-chief and medical director at Northwell Health’s Cancer Institute in New York, says that, “It’s now generally accepted that vitamin D deficiency is a worldwide problem that affects not only musculoskeletal health but also a wide range of acute and chronic diseases.”
“The safety of giving vitamin D to people with cancer and making sure it doesn’t interfere with therapy is of utmost importance. There may be benefits for some cancer diagnoses, but not others,” said Dr. Chandra.
Sunlight exposure is one of the main sources of vitamin D, but there are other ways to acquire vitamin D such as through liver, butter, ricotta cheese, eggs yolks, white and shiitake mushrooms, as well as fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna. Additionally vitamin D can be obtained in supplements; cod liver oil is a great source of this vitamin.
Those who are vegan or vegetarian have fewer options for vitamin D from diet as it often comes from animal products. A variety of vegetarian foods are now being fortified with vitamin D including soy products, plant based milks, and orange juice.
Another benefit of vitamin D is that it helps to promote better calcium absorption to build stronger bones in the young, and those fighting osteoporosis; vitamin D also helps to manage depression, fight certain diseases, combat the flu, and promote weight loss.
“An effective strategy to prevent vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency is to get sensible sun exposure, eat foods that contain vitamin D, and take a vitamin D supplement if recommended by your doctor,” Saif said.
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