According to scientists, the number of cancer deaths in the UK could fall by 15 percent if everyone took a vitamin D supplement.
Data from the UK Biobank, an online database of health and lifestyle records from around 500,000 Britons, suggests that deficiency is associated with an increased risk of death – particularly those related to colon, stomach, prostate and lung cancer.
The researchers said their work, published in Elsevier’s European Journal of Cancer, is further evidence that vitamin D may have a protective effect against the disease.
While the results don’t explain why this happens, the team said one possibility is that “sun supplements” might induce anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and DNA damage repair mechanisms that can prevent mutations that allow tumors to grow.
Study author Ben Schottker, an epidemiologist at the German Cancer Research Center, said: “Our results showed a statistically significant association between vitamin D deficiency and increased mortality in several types of cancer.”
“These results may be explained by other studies that found mechanisms by which vitamin D inhibits cancer growth and metastasis.”
The NHS recommends that adults and children over the age of four take a daily supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D all year round.
Pills can be bought from Boots for just £2.75 for £90 – that’s just over 3p a pill.
Around one in six adults and nearly 20 per cent of children in the UK have vitamin D levels below government recommendations, according to the Department for Health and Social Care.
Older people, people who are housebound, and people from Black and South Asian communities are more likely to have lower scores.
For the study, the researchers examined data from more than 400,000 people aged 40 to 69 years.
Extensive medical information was collected through blood, urine and saliva samples.
With the help of a short interview and a questionnaire, vitamin D consumption and lifestyle factors such as alcohol consumption and smoking were recorded.
Follow-up data on health outcomes was collected via NHS links, as well as care data, cancer screening data and disease-specific registries.
Over a period of nearly 13 years, almost 13,000 people died from cancer.
The results showed that a majority of the study population had either vitamin D deficiency (21.1 percent) or vitamin D insufficiency (34.4 percent), which describes low levels.
Of the people involved in the study, only 4.1 percent regularly took a vitamin D supplement and 20.3 percent regularly took a multivitamin supplement.
The results showed that users of vitamin D supplements had a 15 percent reduction in all-cause mortality and a 25 percent reduction in lung cancer mortality compared to those who did not take the supplement.
The researchers also found that people with vitamin D deficiency had a 42 percent increased mortality from gastric, 27 percent from colon, 24 percent from lung and 36 percent from prostate cancer.
Meanwhile, it was found that people with vitamin D deficiency had a 14 percent increased mortality from colon cancer and a 19 percent increased mortality from lung cancer.
“PUBLIC HEALTH PROBLEM”
The scientists said the potential for reducing cancer mortality from vitamin D supplementation in populations with low vitamin D levels should be further explored in new research.
dr Commenting on the study, Jenna Macciochi, Lecturer in Immunology at the University of Sussex, said: “This study adds to the growing body of evidence on vitamin D and cancer.”
“Vitamin D plays several key roles in immune system health, and the immune system is part of the body’s cancer defense system.”
“As cancer rates are rising and pose a serious public health concern, it is useful to gain further insight into the role of vitamin D in cancer prevention.”
But dr Macciochi also warned that the biobank data may not be diverse and representative of the entire UK population.
Alex Ruani, a PhD student at University College London and senior science educator at the Health Sciences Academy, who was not involved in the study, said the exact dosing of the participants was not determined and the risk reduction is not the same for all cancers.
She said, “This research does not imply that taking vitamin D3 supplements will definitely lower your risk of dying from cancer.”
“Supplement can help keep vitamin D levels constant while production fluctuates from sunlight and depends on the weather, time of day, length of exposure, being outdoors or indoors, UV protective clothing or sunscreen, and many other factors can.”
She added, “Common dietary sources of vitamin D3 include full-fat dairy, egg yolks, and fish.”
“Although toxicity is rare, there is a tolerable limit in the UK at which vitamin D3 supplementation should not exceed 100 micrograms per day.”