Can this vitamin help prevent cancer?

woman shopping for vitamins

Vitamin D, also called calciferol, is an essential fat-soluble vitamin that plays a crucial role in maintaining healthy bones, teeth and overall health. Vitamin D is essential for skeletal development and maintains bone density throughout life by aiding in calcium absorption from the blood and intestines. Indirectly, it regulates inflammation and cell growth and supports good immunity. It also plays a role in muscle function and an adequate level in the body has been linked to a reduced risk of falls and fractures in older adults.

It exists in two forms: 

  1. vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol)
  2. vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol)

Vitamin D3 is primarily produced in the skin when exposed to sunlight. It can also be found in animal-based foods, unlike Vitamin D2 which is found only in plant-based foods.

Relationship between vitamin D and cancer prevention

Several studies have been conducted to explain the association between vitamin D and cancer prevention. In our body, vitamin D regulates the genes responsible for cell differentiation and is an essential part of processes such as cell growth and cell death. It also plays an important role in innate immunity, a process that recognises and eliminates cancer cells.

Over the years, more than 20 different cancers have been studied and found to have an inverse relationship with serum vitamin D concentration and solar UV-B levels. 

Vitamin D and breast cancer

Meta-analysis research has found an inverse relationship between vitamin D levels and the risk of breast cancer. More than 68 studies were analysed, and it was established that pre-menopausal women who have higher vitamin D levels in their bodies were less susceptible to developing breast cancer than women with vitamin D deficiencies. Another study showed that having a vitamin D deficiency caused an increase in the risk for breast cancer among both pre- and post-menopausal women.

Vitamin D and prostate cancer

Research on the association between prostate cancer and vitamin D serum levels has also yielded promising results. A collaborative analysis of 19 independent studies, conducted on more than 13,462 men were compared and it was suggested that lower than normal levels of vitamin D have been associated with an increased risk of developing prostate cancer. Some studies have also confirmed that an increase in blood serum vitamin D levels may control the growth and spread of prostate cancer by inhibiting cell division and death in cancer cells. Researchers also found that African-American men or men with higher levels of melanin having vitamin D deficiency had an increased chance of being diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Vitamin D and colorectal cancer

There has been no concrete evidence in support of the inverse relationship between vitamin D levels and colorectal cancer. However, clinical trials are still looking into the association, including how the vitamin affects people who take it along with their treatment for colorectal cancer.

Vitamin D and ovarian cancer

Studies conducted on mice have shown that the exposure of ovarian cancer cells to vitamin D3 showed a decrease in the potential of the cells to metastasise into other organs such as the liver, lung and bone marrow. This evidence shows that lower levels of vitamin D in the body were associated with an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Excessive exposure to sunlight’s ultraviolet radiation is a major risk factor for skin cancer. However, it’s important to note that moderate exposure, with proper sun protection measures, is necessary for the synthesis and formation of vitamin D.

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that plays a vital role in our bodies, beyond its association with bone health. While the relationship is complex and further research is needed to establish a definite relationship, several studies have suggested an association between vitamin D levels and the risk of developing certain types of cancer.

Some studies have also provided an insight into the potential mechanisms through which vitamin D may influence cancer development by regulating the genes involved in cell proliferation, apoptosis (programmed cell death), and inflammation, all of which are important processes in cancer development. Additionally, vitamin D has been shown to have antiangiogenic properties, which may help inhibit the growth and spread of tumours.

However, it is essential to understand that this relationship is complex, and external factors such as lifestyle also play significant roles in cancer development.

It is worth noting that studies on taking vitamin D supplements do not always show benefits in reducing tumour growth and the risk of death, especially for prostate and breast cancer. In the context of cancer, vitamin D is typically known for its ability to slow down cell growth and promote cell death. It can also enhance the effects of certain medications when used together for medical treatment.

Do you take vitamin D supplements? Let us know why or why not in the comments section below.

Also read: Timing of cancer diagnosis and treatment matters, research finds

Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Written by Ellie Baxter

Writer and editor with interests in travel, health, wellbeing and food. Has knowledge of marketing psychology, social media management and is a keen observer and commentator on issues facing older Australians.

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