Vitamin D levels inversely linked to colon cancer risk, overall mortality
Evidence continues to mount showing that vitamin D may help lengthen life span and decrease the risk of cancer, particularly colon cancer.
Scientists have long known that vitamin D is essential for the growth and maintenance of healthy bones and teeth, but recent research suggests that the vitamin also plays an essential role in maintaining the immune system and overall bodily health. Levels high enough to prevent bone disorders may still be too low to prevent autoimmune disorders, heart disease, diabetes and cancer, while higher levels may help prevent these and other chronic diseases.
The skin naturally produces vitamin D upon exposure to the ultraviolet radiation from sunlight. It can also be found as an additive in certain foods or ingested via supplements.
Why you need more sunlight
A systematic review of the research connecting vitamin D and lower cancer rates conducted by researchers from the University of Bremen in Germany and published in the journal Deutsches Arzteblatt International in 2010. The researchers analyzed the findings of the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s 2008 review on the topic, as well as several other studies not included in that review.
They found that, across the board, higher blood levels of vitamin D were significantly associated with lower overall mortality and a lower risk of colon cancer. They also concluded that brief exposure to sunlight is sufficient to produce optimal vitamin D levels. Because the body produces copious amounts of vitamin D in only a fraction of the time needed to produce a sunburn or other skin damage, the researchers concluded that increasing vitamin D exposure need not lead to increased skin cancer risk.
“Brief, daily UV exposure stimulates vitamin D production and causes negligible skin damage,” the researchers wrote.
However, they advised against the use of artificial UV radiation as a potential skincancer risk. For populations that are unable to get enough sun exposure, such as dark-skinned people living far from the equator, the researchers recommended boosting vitamin D levels with supplements.
A growing consensus
Although the 2010 review found the link between vitamin D and lower breast cancer rates to be less conclusive, other recent studies have strengthened the evidence. For example, a study presented at the Third American Association for Cancer Research Conference on the Science of Cancer Health Disparities in 2010 found that vitamin D deficiency was widespread among women who had received a recent breast cancer diagnosis, with the lowest levels of the vitamin significantly associated with triple-negative breast cancer.
Triple-negative breast cancer is the most deadly and hard-to-treat form of the disease. This cancer is most prevalent among black and Hispanic women, who are more likely to have lower vitamin D levels. However, these populations also tend to be exposed to more cancer risk factors than white women. For this reason, the study could not prove a connection between vitamin D status and triple-negative cancer.
But a more recent study published in The Journal of Cell Biology showed that supplementation with vitamin D actually slows and can even stop the progression of triple-negative cancer. It does this by blocking the activity of a chemical that can cause tumors to become triple-negative.
Breast and colon cancer are not the only cancers that seem to respond to vitamin D levels. A study published in the journal Comprehensive Cancer Research found that obese mice were significantly less likely to develop uterine cancer if they were given vitamin D supplements.
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