3 simple steps can cut cancer risk in older adults by over 60%

ZURICH, Switzerland — Taking vitamin D, omega-3 fish oil, and a simple home exercise program can slash cancer risk by almost two-thirds among older adults, according to new research.

Researchers in Switzerland who studied a group of healthy adults over 70 found the daily supplements – along with regular exercise – reduced invasive disease cases by 61 percent. The findings come from the DO-HEALTH trial, a three-year trial in Switzerland, France, Germany, Austria, and Portugal which included 2,157 participants.

Study authors believe the trio of simple and cheap interventions could help combat the world’s second biggest killer.

“Preventive efforts in middle-aged and older adults today are largely limited to screening and vaccination efforts,” says lead author Dr. Heike Bischoff-Ferrari from the University Hospital Zurich in a media release.

Cancer claims almost 10 million lives a year worldwide, with the chances of getting most forms increasing with age.

“In DO-HEALTH, our aim was to test promising combined interventions for cancer prevention taking advantage of potentially small additive benefits from several public health strategies,” Bischoff-Ferrari explains. “In fact, novel cancer treatments aim to block multiple pathways for cancer development by combining several agents. We translated this concept into cancer prevention.”

The international team identified a cumulative affect from high-dose vitamin D, omega-3s, and a simple home strength exercise program (SHEP). The study is the first of its kind and may impact the future of cancer prevention in older adults.

Lab tests have shown vitamin D inhibits the growth of cancer cells. Similarly, studies reveal that omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish stop normal cells from turning cancerous. Meanwhile, physical activity boosts immunity and reduces inflammation, which could also stave off tumors.

Twice the dose may be the right dose

The study split the 2,157 participants into eight different groups to test the individual and combined benefits of the interventions. One group received 50 mcg (micrograms) of Vitamin D3 each day. This is over twice the current recommendations for older adults. They also received one gram of omega-3s and participated in SHEP three times per week.

The others had either vitamin D with omega-3 or SHEP, omega-3 and SHEP, only one of the three regimes, or a placebo. Volunteers had check-up phone calls every three months and standardized examinations of health and function at the outset and once every 12 months. There were small improvements from each of the therapies, which became statistically significant when used in tandem.

“This is the first randomized controlled trial to show that the combination daily vitamin D3, supplemental marine omega-3s, and a simple home exercise program may be effective in the prevention of invasive cancer among generally healthy and active adults aged 70 and older,” Bischoff-Ferrari continues.

Previous studies show that beneficial physical activity can include simple household tasks such as going up and down stairs, vacuuming, cleaning, dusting, or gardening.

“Our results, although based on multiple comparisons and requiring replication, may prove to be beneficial for reducing the burden of cancer,” Dr. Bischoff-Ferrari concludes. “Future studies should verify the benefit of combined treatments in the prevention of cancer, also extending to longer follow-ups beyond the three-year duration assessed in this trial.”

The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Aging.

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

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  1. Does anyone know what simple home exercise program (SHEP) really means? A five-minute walk? A half-marathon daily? Details really matter here.

    I’ve been able to find the dosage levels of the Omega-3 and Vitamin D supplements. But searching for the actual meaning of SHEP has been very elusive.

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