This is how vitamin D protects against cancer

This is how vitamin D protects against cancer

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How useful is vitamin D to protect against cancer?

A good vitamin D status is beneficial both in cancer prevention and in the prognosis of various types of cancer. The anti-cancer effect of vitamin D appears to be particularly pronounced in the prevention of colon and blood cancer.

A recent review, written by Professor Carsten Carlberg of the University of Eastern Finland and Professor Alberto Muñoz of the Autonomous University of Madrid, looked at the effects of vitamin D on the prevention, treatment, and prognosis of various types of cancer. The article was published in the English language journal "Seminars in Cancer Biology".

Vitamin D helps prevent and predict cancer

The cancer-inhibiting effect of vitamin D helps both in cancer prevention and in the prognosis of different types of cancer, especially in the prevention and treatment of colon and blood cancer, those affected benefit from a good vitamin D status.

How does responsiveness affect vitamin D?

In addition, a high level of responsiveness to vitamin D can be associated with a lower risk of cancer, the authors report. Responsiveness to vitamin D varies from person to person, which of course affects the need for vitamin D supplementation.

Molecular basis of vitamin D signaling

The newly published article provides an up-to-date overview of the molecular basis of vitamin D signaling and its role in cancer prevention and therapy. Vitamin D is widely known for its vital role in bone health. Vitamin D is also able to regulate the immune system.

How can vitamin D protect against cancer?

The effect of vitamin D to fight cancer is mainly mediated by immune cells (e.g. monocytes and T cells), the authors of the study explain. Vitamin D exerts its effect via the vitamin D receptor. This so-called transcription factor is involved in the expression and epigenetic regulation of numerous genes.

Most beneficial for colorectal cancer and blood cancer

Studies that focus on the effects of vitamin D in various cancers provide the strongest evidence of its benefits in colorectal cancer and blood cancer, according to the report. Vitamin D is particularly important for the differentiation of blood cells during so-called hematopoiesis (blood formation) as well as for adult stem cells in rapidly regenerating tissues (such as the colon or skin).

What does a low vitamin D status do?

Too low a vitamin D status leads to a suboptimal function of the vitamin D receptor and to an increased risk that these cells do not differentiate completely. This can cause cells to grow out of control and turn into cancer cells. Low vitamin D status, measured as the level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in the blood, has also been associated with a higher incidence of cancer and a poorer prognosis in other types of cancer (e.g. breast and prostate cancer).

Does vitamin D supplementation reduce cancer mortality?

However, randomized controlled trials have not consistently demonstrated that vitamin D supplementation lowers cancer mortality. According to the authors of the current report, the influence of vitamin D could be shown more clearly. For this, the participants in studies would have to be stratified according to their individual vitamin D reactivity and the health results in relation to changes in individual vitamin D status analyzed.

Some people respond poorly to vitamin D.

The research group led by Professor Carlberg has already shown in the past that individuals differ significantly in their molecular response or sensitivity to vitamin D supplementation. For example, about 25 percent of the Finnish population has a weak response to vitamin D. This population therefore needs a higher dose of vitamin D supplementation to achieve the full clinical benefit. Regarding cancer risk, it can be assumed that a high response rate has a protective effect, the authors explain.

Does vitamin D also help in the treatment of cancer?

According to the report, good vitamin D status is beneficial for general cancer prevention. However, there is less evidence to date about the benefits of vitamin D in the treatment of cancer. (as)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Carsten Carlberg, Alberto Muñoz: An update on vitamin D signaling and cancer, in Seminars in Cancer Biology (published May 30, 2020), Seminars in Cancer Biology

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