Bowel cancer patients with high blood levels of vitamin D are more likely to survive the disease, according to research published this week.
Scientists who studied almost 1,600 patients after surgery for bowel cancer found those with the highest levels of vitamin D have half the risk of dying of the disease compared with those with the lowest levels.
The study is the first to correlate the long-term survival prospects of bowel cancer patients after diagnosis with total blood levels of vitamin D.
Vitamin D is made in the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D is also found in foods such as fatty fish (salmon, trout, sardines, herring, mackerel), egg yolks and fortified cow’s milk and plant beverages.
The vitamin is known to boost the uptake of calcium and bone formation. Some observational studies have also suggested a link between low levels of vitamin D and greater risks of many acute and chronic diseases.
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh who led this study, said it suggested vitamin D supplements may be worth exploring for bowel cancer patients.
The findings are promising but it is important to note that this was an observational study and doesn’t prove cause and effect, rather the findings show an association.
The research team tested blood samples from almost 1,600 patients after surgery for colorectal cancer. They found the greatest benefit of vitamin D in patients with stage 2 cancers, when the tumor may be quite large but the disease has not yet spread.
Three quarters of the patients with the highest vitamin D levels were still alive after five years, compared with fewer than two thirds of those with the lowest levels, they found.
The team plan to set up a clinical trial to test whether taking vitamin D supplements in combination with chemotherapy can improve bowel cancer survival rates.
The fact that very few foods contain vitamin D and that, except in the summer, the skin makes little if any vitamin D from the sun at latitudes above 37 degrees north (e.g. Canada), makes it necessary to take a supplement. The Canadian Cancer Society recommends adults take 1000 IU (international units) of vitamin D3 daily in the fall and winter. Older adults, people with dark skin, those who don’t go outdoors often and those who wear clothing that covers most of their skin should take the supplement year-round. Some individuals may need a higher dose to maintain a sufficient vitamin D blood level.
Source: Journal of Clinical Oncology, July 2014.
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