Maintaining optimal vitamin D levels is key to preventing cancer

There is a lot of conflicting advice out there about vitamin use, and the insistence by a few vocal “experts” that multivitamins are a waste of money has led many people to falsely believe that not getting enough vitamins is not such a big deal. However, when it comes to vitamin D, maintaining optimal levels could mean the difference between developing cancer or not.

Our bodies need vitamin D to maintain proper calcium levels for bone health, along with muscle functioning and neuronal communication. It is also needed to help our immune system function properly.

Scientists have known for many years that higher serum levels of vitamin D are associated with a significantly lower incidence of breast, pancreatic, colon, renal, aggressive prostate, ovarian, and other cancers, and studies continue to show how useful it can be in this regard.

A study published in the Annals of Epidemiology concluded that raising the minimum serum levels of vitamin D to 40 to 60 ng/mL could prevent as many as 58,000 new breast cancer cases and 49,000 new colorectal cancer cases in the U.S. and Canada each year, in addition to preventing three fourths of the deaths caused by these cancers. They also say such an intake could decrease the case-fatality rates of those with prostate, breast and colorectal cancer by half.

The study’s authors emphasize that there aren’t any “unreasonable risks” from taking as much as 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day or achieving the levels recommended, and they called for a national effort to raise people’s intake of vitamin D as well as calcium.

In another study that involved more than 33,000 Japanese participants aged 40 to 69 and a follow-up period of 16 years on average, researchers discovered that the participants with the higher vitamin D levels enjoyed a 20 percent lower risk of all types of cancer when compared to those who recorded the lowest levels of vitamin D. The finding held true even after accounting for factors like body mass index, smoking and alcohol intake, physical activity, and age. In particular, they found an association between higher vitamin D levels and a 30 to 50 percent reduced risk of liver cancer, and the effect was particularly pronounced in men.

Driving the point home is a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute that found higher levels of serum vitamin D was associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer. This finding was based on data from 17 prospective studies involving more than 12,000 people. The researchers found that those who had a vitamin D deficiency were 31 percent more likely to develop colorectal cancer than those who had vitamin D levels that were higher than recommended.

Getting enough vitamin D is easier than you think

Given vitamin D’s ability to prevent cancer, should you run out and buy supplements right away? The truth is that many people can get all the vitamin D they need simply by heading outdoors while the sun is shining with some of their skin exposed – and without sunscreen. Lots of factors influence how long it takes, including your skin tone and location, but online calculators can help give you a rough idea of what is right for you.

If this isn’t an option for you for some reason, supplements may indeed prove useful as it can be very difficult to get the amount you need from food alone. While you can find vitamin D in fatty fish like tuna, salmon, and trout, as well as mushrooms and eggs, you’d need to eat a lot of these foods to reach the levels mentioned in the study. Keep in mind, however, that experts advise against getting too much vitamin D. Blood tests can help guide your decision.

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