Interest in how vitamin D helps the body resist cancer has generated a large number of studies in recent years. That’s why I’ve often reported on this critical nutrient.
And now, an exhaustive review study by researchers in Spain and Finland analyzed how vitamin D helps immune cells battle cancer. The findings provide strong confirmation that people with a higher vitamin D intake reduce their risk of getting cancer.1
The scientists also point out that everyone is different. Some people’s bodies easily absorb vitamin D supplements so they have a better chance to avoid cancer, while other folks need a higher dosage of vitamin D to get the job done.
The first evidence that vitamin D helps the body avoid cancer emerged 40 years ago when research revealed that people who live in the southern part of the U.S. have a lower risk for colorectal cancer than people who live further north.2
The most likely explanation, researchers suggested, is that folks in the south get more sunlight and therefore can make more vitamin D.
Around the same time, lab tests showed that vitamin D could keep deadly melanoma skin cancer cells from reproducing.3
Vitamin D: Regulator of the immune system
In the new review, the European scientists explain that vitamin D’s anti-cancer power resides mainly in the way it regulates how the immune system behaves.
Most importantly, its actions help immune cells called monocytes and T cells stop tumors from forming. These benefits occur when vitamin D links up with a protein called the vitamin D receptor, a “transcription” factor that has epigenetic effects – meaning it changes how genes behave in our cells.
In going over the research into how vitamin D influences cancer risk, the scientists found that the evidence is strongest for its protective affect against colorectal cancer and blood cancers like lymphomas and leukemia.
This happens because healthy levels of vitamin D present are crucial for both the proper formation of blood cells and for the development of healthy cells that line the colon.
If vitamin D is low, there’s a better chance the vitamin D receptors won’t function correctly. That can lead to cells forming that are not firmly locked into behaving like normal cells, but instead can easily transform into cancer cells that start growing uncontrollably into tumors.
This organ needs vitamin D more than others
According to additional research, the liver is an organ in the body that especially seems to need an adequate amount of vitamin D to keep cancer away.
Research in Japan looked at comprehensive health and lifestyle data collected from more than 30,000 men and women in their 40s, 50s and 60s. The findings show a link between higher vitamin D levels in the blood and lower cancer rates and, in this research, D was particularly important for keeping the liver cancer-free.
And while the 16-year study demonstrated that people with the most vitamin D in their system were, overall, 20 percent less likely to get cancer of any kind — a huge difference – when it came to liver cancer, having more vitamin D cut the risk by 30 to 50 percent, with the strongest protective effect in men.4
This is an amazing advantage from taking just about the simplest, least expensive step you can take to protect your health.
How D works in your liver
At the same time, a study at the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in La Jolla, California, demonstrates that vitamin D’s anti-cancer benefits for the liver derive from its interaction with a protein called p62.5
This protein is manufactured by cells in the liver known as stellate cells.
The other functions of stellate cells include helping regenerate and repair the liver as well as supporting the storage of vitamin A. Yet tests show that people suffering liver cancer may be deficient in p62.
These researchers admit they don’t know if the lack of p62 helps to initiate cancer or if having cancer lowers levels of p62. Either way, they believe that vitamin D’s ability to interact with p62 frees up stellate cells to store extra amounts of vitamin A – an occurence that lowers inflammatory damage to the liver and therefore provides protection against cancer.6
How to put vitamin D to work for you
If you want to put vitamin D to work in your body to fend off cancer, researchers at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine say you need to make sure you’re also getting enough magnesium.
Their studies show that if you’re low in this mineral, the body finds it hard to metabolize vitamin D. And when your body can’t process vitamin D, the nutrient can’t be activated into a form that helps the immune system inhibit cancer.7
“Without magnesium, vitamin D is not really useful or safe,” says researcher Mohammed S. Razzaque.
Dr. Razzaque warns that if you start downing supplements of vitamin D but are deficient in magnesium, the resulting imbalance in your body leads to an increase of phosphate and calcium circulating in the blood. That in turn may result in blockages in your arteries when the calcium accumulates in blood vessels – a precursor to heart disease when the heart muscle can’t get enough nutrients and oxygen.
He adds that this is not a problem if your magnesium levels are adequate. And the magnesium also helps to strengthen your bones.
Magnesium deficiency is common and contributes to many other health problems besides poor metabolism of D. It’s often mentioned as a cause of chronic fatigue. Nearly everyone should supplement with magnesium.
There’s no toxicity associated with magnesium intake (meaning you don’t have to worry much about overdosing). The most common side effect is diarrhea, if you overdo it. If your stools become loose, discontinue magnesium, then gradually start taking lower doses as your colon stabilizes.
If you decide to take vitamin D supplements, knowledgeable health experts recommend taking 2,000 to 5,000 IU daily for adults. They also recommend taking up to 350mg of magnesium daily for adults.8The only way to know for sure how much D you need is to take a blood test. That’s what I recommend. Some people are very deficient and need an enormous amount.
Even if you get a lot of summer sun, supplementing with vitamin D is still a good idea. A long list of conditions can increase your need for vitamin D, such as being overweight, having diabetes, having dark skin, staying out of the sun or using sunscreen, and even just advancing age can all limit how well your body makes and metabolizes vitamin D.