Researchers from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have found in a new study that vitamin D can help the body’s immune system fight against colorectal cancer.
The study was published in Gut.
This new found knowledge contributes to a growing body of research of associating vitamin D with the response of the immune system to cancer cells.
Colorectal cancer is the 3rd most common cancer and fourth leading cause of cancer death worldwide. In the U.S. it is the second leading cause of cancer death. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 51,783 people died from the disease in 2011.
Previous studies indicated that vitamin D may have a preventive effect against colorectal cancer.
Research suggests that vitamin D boosts immune system function by activating T cells that recognize and attach cancer cells.
The purpose of this study was to determine if these two phenomena are related.
The team hypothesized that if the two were related, colorectal tumors developing in participants with high levels of vitamin D would likely be more resistant to the cells of the immune system than those developing in participants with lower levels of the vitamin.
Researchers assessed data from 170,000 participants of two long-term research projects, the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professional Follow-up Study.
From the data pool, 942 participants were selected, 318 with colorectal cancer and 624 who were cancer free. Each participant had a blood sample taken in the 1990s, at a time before any had been diagnosed with cancer. The samples were tested for a substance produced in the liver from vitamin D.
Participants with high amounts of the substance were found by the the researchers to be less likely to develop colorectal tumors permeated with large numbers of immune system cells, suggesting that their hypothesis.
Vitamin D can be obtained through exposure to sunlight as well as certain foods and supplements.
Vitamin D contributes to calcium absorption and the growth and repair of bones. Some studies have also associated the vitamin with reducing the risk of multiple sclerosis, asthma symptoms and heart attacks.
People with high levels of vitamin D in their bloodstream have a lower overall risk of developing colorectal cancer.