The Observer | UK News | Cancer risk in low vitamin D levels:
Cancer risk in low vitamin D levels
Jo Revill, health editor
Sunday April 2, 2006
Half the population of Britain suffer mild deficiency of the ‘sunshine vitamin’, vitamin D. As a result, they face increased risks of fractures and of getting cancers and other diseases in later life, a leading specialist has warned. Only regular consumption of supplements is likely to solve the problem, he added.
The nutrient, essential for healthy bones, is produced in the body when it is exposed to sunlight and is also found in oily fish, egg yolks and margarine. When it was discovered a century ago, doctors used vitamin D – in the form of cod liver oil supplements – to eradicate rickets.
But at a conference yesterday, Professor Roger Bouillon, from Leuven University in Belgium, said vitamin D supplements might have to be reintroduced because people were not taking in enough oily fish or not getting enough exposure to sunlight.
‘We already know that insufficient vitamin D increases the risk for osteoporosis, falls and fractures, but there is new evidence that even a mild deficiency can be associated with more tuberculosis, and some studies also suggest an increased risk for colon, breast and prostate cancer,’ he said.
Speaking at the European Congress of Endocrinology in Glasgow, Bouillon – one of the world’s leading specialists on the vitamin – said more large-scale studies were needed to see if larger intakes of vitamin D would translate into reductions in disease around the world.
‘If these studies do show the benefits we expect, then more than a billion people of all ages around the world would need to increase their vitamin D intake.’ Bouillon said that research had shown half the population of Europe suffered from mild vitamin D deficiency. Teenage girls are known to be particularly vulnerable, with up to 85 per cent suffering from a mild deficiency in winter months.
At the same time, vitamin D has recently been shown to increase levels of enzymes that can combat cancer cells. Other studies have found that low levels increase the amount of wear and tear in the joints of the hip and knee, which can lead to osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease that affects half of those over the age of 60.
And last year US researchers published a review of previous studies that had examined the relationship between blood levels of vitamin D and cancer. This suggested the risk of some cancers could be halved if vitamin D levels were kept sufficiently high.
The papers, published worldwide between 1966 and 2004, included 30 investigations of colon cancer, 13 of breast cancer, 26 of prostate cancer and seven of ovarian cancer, and showed that, for at least some cancers, the vitamin D factor could not be ignored.