Vitamin D may extend lifespans of cancer patients, study finds

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Vitamin D is well-known for its bone-strengthening properties, but it may be even more critical to our health than believed. New Michigan State University research reveals that the sunshine vitamin may also be a cancer-fighting powerhouse.

Of course, our bodies naturally the sun’s energy into Vitamin D. We can also up our intake by consuming fish, eggs, mushrooms and some fortified foods. Or one can simply swallow an over-the-counter supplement. Although it may not prevent cancer on its own, researchers say this readily-available vitamin  increases longevity of cancer patients if taken for at least three years.

“Vitamin D had a significant effect on lowering the risk of death among those with cancer,” says lead study author Tarek Haykal, an internal medicine resident physician at the university, in a media release. “But, unfortunately, it didn’t show any proof that it could protect against getting cancer.”

Researchers studied disease prevention data from numerous studies involving 79,000 patients. The studies randomly compared the results of using Vitamin D versus placebo over a minimum of three years. In particular, researchers looked at clues involving cancer and mortality rates.

“The difference in the mortality rate between the vitamin D and placebo groups was statistically significant enough that it showed just how important it might be among the cancer population,” says Haykal.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. Another weapon is certainly a welcome addition in the fight.

While the results of this study show promise that Vitamin D may be the next great cancer treatment tool, researchers caution that there are still many questions. How much Vitamin D should be taken and what blood levels are needed to see an increase in lifespans? How much longer do people live when Vitamin D is added? How does Vitamin D accomplish this?

“There are still many questions and more research is needed,” Haykal says. “All we can say is that at least three years of taking the supplement is required to see any effect.”

Despite the unknowns, Haykal says there is ample evidence for doctors, especially oncologists, to prescribe Vitamin D.

“We know it carries benefits with minimal side effects, he said. “There’s plenty of potential here.”

The findings are published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

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