Vitamin D supplements help cancer patients live longer
- and the nutrient also has anti-cancer properties
Cancer patients, who take high-dosed vitamin D supplements for at least three years may live longer, according to a study from Michigan State University, USA. It is not enough to treat cancer with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. You also have to optimize the body’s vitamin D status. It is a problem that vitamin D deficiency is so common because it helps long-term prevention if you have adequate levels of the nutrient in your blood. The question is how much do we need, and is the sun sufficiently powerful to enable us to synthesize vitamin D in our skin during the winter period?
Cancer is the number one killer of the industrialized world. Denmark holds records for several cancer forms and we have still not been able to bend the curve. On the contrary, even people, who follow the official dietary guidelines, maintain their ideal weight, limit their alcohol intake, exercise regularly, and are non-smokers, get cancer. It normally takes many years for cancer to develop so it is essential to have adequately high vitamin D levels at all times throughout life. For people, who have already contracted cancer, it is vital to take a vitamin D supplement.
We humans are only able to synthesize vitamin D when the sun sits high in the sky (summer period)
Health authorities warn us against the sun, but they should at the same time inform us how to get vitamin D from other sources.
Otherwise, there is a risk that their sun awareness campaigns do more harm than good
Cancer is primarily a lifestyle disease. In 90% of cases, genes are not involved
Vitamin D is important for bones, muscles, immune defense, and cell division. Nearly all cells in the body have vitamin D receptors, and it is believed that vitamin D controls 5-10 percent of our genes by switching them on or off. Vitamin D has several anti-cancer mechanisms, which we will address later on.
Researchers from Michigan State University have discovered that cancer patients, who take vitamin D supplements for at least three years live longer. In a meta-analysis of several controlled studies, the researchers looked closer at data from 79,055 cancer patients that took either vitamin D supplements or placebo for a three-year period. The scientists adjusted for confounding factors such as smoking, BMI, and ageing, all of which also affect cancer risk or mortality.
They found a statistically significant difference in mortality between the vitamin D group and the placebo group, which means that it may be important to give supplements of vitamin D as part of the cancer treatment. It is safe and inexpensive. The Michigan State University researchers are not quite sure about the optimal supplementation level and the optimal vitamin D level in the blood.
The more vitamin D in the blood, the lower the risk of cancer
Back in the 1940s, scientists observed a link between cancer mortality and exposure to UVB rays from the sun. People living at northern latitudes had an increased risk of breast cancer and other cancer forms, and it is still that way. When the body’s vitamin D status is too low, it affects many of the genes that code various proteins and control cell division. This may eventually increase the risk of cancer or lower one’s chances of recovering entirely after undergoing cancer therapy. Vitamin D is also able to control estrogen and inflammation, both of which are involved in several cancer types.
Professor Cedric F. Garland from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine in the United States has for two decades published studies, articles, and books about the relation between low vitamin D and the increased risk of breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, bladder cancer, and leukemia. Professor Garland headed a study where he found that levels of vitamin D in the blood should be at least 60 ng/ml for prevention of breast cancer. This threshold level is a lot higher than the official American threshold values.
New optimal threshold levels require supplementation
Vitamin D in the blood is measured as 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 – or 25(OH)D. Leading scientists, including Professor Garland, claim that levels should be as high as 60-100 ng/ml for effective disease prevention. Because we are unable to synthesize vitamin D during the winter period at northern latitudes, and because there are only limited amounts of vitamin D in the diet, it is a good idea to take a high-dosed vitamin D supplement in the winter period. That way, you can optimize blood levels of the nutrient and prevent cancer and many other diseases.
Vitamin D levels in the blood higher than 125 ng/ml may cause nausea, constipation, weight loss, heart rhythm disturbances, and kidney damage. It is not possible to get too much vitamin D from sun exposure (beware of the risk of burning, though), and supplementation should be adjusted to individual needs.
Overweight combined with vitamin D deficiency is a dangerous cocktail
Overweight individuals have difficulty with synthesizing and utilizing vitamin D, and they also produce more estrogen.
Vitamin D from diet and sun exposure, and upper safe limits
Cod liver, cod roe, oily fish such as free-range salmon and herring, and egg yolks are good sources of vitamin D. Still, the amount of vitamin D in the diet is negligible. Sun exposure is by far the best source. On a clear, blue summer day you can easily make 30-100 micrograms of vitamin D, which is a lot more than what you get from the official dietary intake of the nutrient.
There is still some disagreement when it comes to establishing the optimal need for vitamin D supplementation. Factors like ageing, skin color, overweight, and type 2 diabetes may affect the need for the nutrient. Cancer can also increase one’s need for vitamin D.
With regard to supplementation, the upper safe intake level for vitamin D, according to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), is 100 micrograms daily for adolescents and adults (including pregnant and breastfeeding women.)
Varun Samji et al. Role of vitamin D supplementation for primary prevention of cancer: Meta-analysis of randomized trials. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2019
Michigan State University. Vitamin D could help cancer patients live longer. ScienceDaily. June 2019
Melina Arnold et al. Progress in cancer survival, mortality, and incidence in seven high-income countries 1995-2014. (ICBP SURMARK-2): a population-based study. The Lancet. September 2019
Machado MRM, de Sousa Almeida-Filho B et al. Low pretreatment serum concentration of vitamin D at breast cancer diagnosis in postmenopausal women. Menopause September 17, 2018
Obesity and vitamin D deficiency may indicate greater risk for breast cancer. Cleveland OH: The North American Menopause Society. September 19, 2018
University of California – San Diego. Greater Levels of vitamin D associated with decreasing risk of breast cancer. June 15, 2018
Hutch News. High blood levels of vitamin D linked to reduced estrogen – and potentially lower breast cancer risk. 2016
Susan Scutti: High Blood Levels Of Vitamin D Help Protect Women Over 50 From Cancer: Study
Sharon L. McDonnel, Cedric F Garland et al: Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Concentrations ≥40 ng/ml Are Associated with >65% Lower Cancer Risk: Pooled Analysis of Randomized Trial and Prospective Cohort Study PLoS One: 2016
Bruce Lipton. Intelligente Celler. Borgen. 2009
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