Adequate Vitamin D Levels May Reduce Cancer Deaths

Good news about vitamin D is piling up. We’ve learned it reduces the likelihood of contracting COVID-19, eases symptoms for those who do contract the virus and has positive effects on the gut, brain and other body systems. The latest findings about vitamin D and your health don’t disappoint, either.

Adequate levels of vitamin D are associated with a reduction in cancer mortality rates of about 13 percent. That’s what the findings of three meta-analyses* of clinical studies have concluded. But what does that mean in real-world terms?

Research scientists at the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) wanted to find out. So they translated the findings into real-world terms, as applied to Germans and their health. What they found is shockingly good news.

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If all Germans over age 50 had adequate vitamin D levels, up to 30,000 cancer deaths could be prevented each year in Germany. As if that isn’t enough to get Germans to boost their vitamin D levels, more than 300,000 years of life could be gained, not to mention having health care costs significantly reduced.

There’s been quite a lot of research in recent years into the ways in which vitamin D helps the body deal with disease, especially inflammatory diseases, respiratory diseases, diabetes and cancer. There’s nearly conclusive evidence that adequate levels of vitamin D can help stave off COVID-19, or at least dramatically reduce the severity of symptoms if it is contracted. (See Vitamin D And The Risk Of Infection And Severity Of Symptoms Of COVID-19 Coronavirus)

The three meta-analyses mentioned above have added to the urgency to rectify inadequate levels of vitamin D in humans. The analyses only considered studies with methodologically high-quality randomized trials from across the globe. The underlying biological mechanism for vitamin D’s impact on cancer mortality was not considered, and isn’t fully clear yet. However, a 13 percent reduction in cancer mortality rates is a very positive finding.

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“In many countries around the world, the age-adjusted rate of cancer mortality has fortunately declined over the past decade,” says Hermann Brenner, an epidemiologist at the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ). “However, given the often considerable costs of many new cancer drugs, this success has often come at a high price. Vitamin D, on the other hand, is comparatively inexpensive in the usual daily doses.”

Older people, and in particular those with cancer, are commonly deficient in vitamin D. The DKFZ research team estimated what it would cost to have every German over 50 years of age supplement with vitamin D to achieve adequate levels of the micronutrient. They then weighed this against the potential cost savings for cancer treatments. Much of the cost of cancer therapies is incurred during the last months of a patient’s life.

Their estimate of costs to supplement every German over age 50 was based on giving those folks 1,000 international units (IU’s) of vitamin D per day. This would cost 25 euros (approx. $30 USD) per person per year. As of 2016, Germany had an over-50 population of about 36 million people. This would make the cost of vitamin D supplementation about 900 million euros ($1.1 billion USD.)

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Then, the team estimated the costs of cancer therapies from the available scientific literature and assumed mean additional treatment costs of 40,000 euros ($48,505 USD) in the last year of life. The 13 percent reduction in cancer deaths equates to about 30,000 fewer German cancer deaths per year. The cost of that treatment is 1.154 billion euros ($1.39 billion USD.) Even when the costs of vitamin D supplementation are factored in, the result is still a savings of 254 million euros ($308 million USD.)

How much other preventative health care service could be provided for $308 million? How much productivity would a society gain from people aged 50 to retirement age if the incidence and mortality of cancer was reduced by 13 percent? What if we could educate people on how to get more vitamin D themselves, either out of their diets or from just getting out in the sunshine? One would think an evolved, modern, forward-thinking society would want to know the answers to those questions.

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The researchers determined the number of years of life lost at the time of cancer death using data from the German Federal Statistical Office. Brenner considers the costs and effort of a routine determination of the individual vitamin D level to be dispensable, since an overdose is not to be feared with a supplementation of 1000 international units. Such a prior testing had not been made in the clinical trials either.

“In view of the potentially significant positive effects on cancer mortality — additionally combined with a possible cost saving — we should look for new ways to reduce the widespread vitamin D deficiency in the elderly population in Germany. In some countries, foods have even been enriched with vitamin D for many years — for example, in Finland, where cancer mortality rates are about 20 percent lower than in Germany. Not to mention that there is mounting evidence of other positive health effects of adequate vitamin D supply, such as in lung disease mortality rates,” says Brenner, adding, “Finally, we consider vitamin D supplementation so safe that we even recommend it for newborn babies to develop healthy bones.”

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Supplementation is certainly one way to increase vitamin D levels. It isn’t, however, the only way, and may not even be the best for overall health. Getting out in the sun 3 to 4 times a week for 12 to 20 minutes is a great way to get your vitamin D and just feel better, too. Uncover your arms and legs, as well as hands and face. And skip the sunscreen!

Lots of really healthy foods are high in vitamin D, too. For more on this, check out ( 3 Key Ways To Get Enough Vitamin D) Eating well and getting some fresh air are definitely high on my own list of ways to boost my vitamin D. They should be on yours, too. Your health and longevity may well depend on your “D” levels!

Keep the faith and keep after it!

*Keum N, Lee DH, Greenwood DC, Manson JE, Giovannucci E. Vitamin D supplementation and total cancer incidence and mortality: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Ann Oncol. 2019;30(5):733-43.
Haykal T, Samji V, Zayed Y, Gakhal I, Dhillon H, Kheiri B, et al. The role of vitamin D supplementation for primary prevention of cancer: meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Community Hosp Intern Med Perspect. 2019;9(6):480-8.
Zhang X, Niu W. Meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials on vitamin D supplement and cancer incidence and mortality. Biosci Rep. 2019;39(11)

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Journal Reference – Tobias Niedermaier, Thomas Gredner, Sabine Kuznia, Ben Schöttker, Ute Mons, Hermann Brenner. Vitamin D supplementation to the older adult population in Germany has the cost‐saving potential of preventing almost 30,000 cancer deaths per year. Molecular Oncology, 2021; DOI: 10.1002/1878-0261.12924

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