“Cancer” might just be the most terrifying word you could hear from a doctor, especially if you lack health insurance. Even with programs that offer free health insurance for adults and children alike, cancer claims the lives of many Americans, and there’s often little a person can do to prevent or stop it once it’s taken hold. Excluding the many varieties of skin cancer that world normally dominate the list, colorectal cancer or “bowel cancer” is the third most common, and a recent breakthrough suggests that preventing it may be as simple as taking in a little more vitamin D.
More research will definitely be needed to confirm the link between colorectal cancer and vitamin D, but evidence gathered so far from a group of nearly 1,000 people presents a compelling case. Vitamin D may interact with the immune system’s ability to fight off and destroy cancerous tumor cells. Shuji Ogino, MD, PhD, lead researcher of Harvard’s School of Public Health describes his findings by saying, “People with high levels of vitamin D in their bloodstream have a lower overall risk of developing colorectal cancer. Laboratory research suggests that vitamin D boosts immune system function by activating T cells that recognize and attack cancer cells.”
Ogino and his colleagues are attempting to prove this possible link by drawing data from a pool of 942 people involved in long-term health research projects. In that sample, 318 of the people included had colorectal cancer while the remaining 624 did not. Ogino analyzed the blood samples each of these patients had given in the ‘90s and tested the samples for 25-hydroxy vitamin D. By measuring levels of 25-hydroxy vitamin D, Ogino was able to accurately measure how much vitamin D was in their body. Note that none of the patients involved in this study had colorectal cancer prior to giving their blood samples.
The researchers found that people with a higher level of 25-hydroxy vitamin D had a lower risk of developing large colorectal tumors with a higher number of immune calls. The data gathered directly suggested an interaction between vitamin D and the immune system, and it’s likely that that interaction may work to prevent or slow the development of colorectal cancer. “In the future, we may be able to predict how increasing an individual’s vitamin D intake and immune function can reduce his or her risk of colorectal cancer,” Ogino says.
Keep in mind that, at this stage of research, nothing is guaranteed or definite. These are theories inspired by an observed pattern, but they’re certainly not scientifically verified facts yet. If you’re interested in lowering your risk of developing colorectal cancer, simple lifestyle and dietary adjustments have already been proven to lower your risk. Regular exercise, a sensible diet, and abstinence from substances like tobacco and alcohol have all been proven to lower your rick of colorectal cancer along with many other common forms of cancer, so until more research is conducted, vitamin D supplements shouldn’t be used to replace healthy habits.
Have you or a loved one battled cancer? How do you think society could change to lower the risk for everyone? Share your insights with us in the comments section below!