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Vitamin D for Prostate Cancer: Is it Effective?

Vitamin D has a wealth of health benefits. New studies suggest that this beneficial vitamin may also be effective at preventing prostate cancer. Find out more below.
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Vitamin D has some amazing health benefits. It offers positive effects in nearly every bodily system from the immune system to the digestive system. Vitamin D is absolutely essential for preventing bone and tooth deterioration.

However, new studies also show that vitamin D may even be able to slow the progression of prostate cancer. Read more about the connection below.

Prostate Cancer Basics

According to the National Cancer Institute, prostate cancer affects about 240,000 men in the United States and kills about 34,000 each year. While the rate of death is lower than many forms of cancer, it is still a dangerous and potentially deadly disease that is responsible for killing thousands of men each year.

According to the National Cancer Institute, prostate cancer is associated with a few important risk factors, such as:

Risk Factors for Prostate Cancer
  • A diet high in animal products
  • A diet high in calcium
  • High cholesterol
  • Genetics (men with dark skin are more likely to develop prostate cancer)
  • Low vitamin D levels may also be a risk factor for developing prostate cancer, but it has not been confirmed

According to the National Cancer Institute, consuming a large amount of animal products early in life contribute to the spread of a growth hormone in the body. This hormone is associated with a greater risk for developing cancers of all types, but particularly prostate cancer in men. A diet high in calcium may also contribute to an increased risk for developing prostate cancer- but studies have not shown whether high calcium intake is related to the growth hormone from animal products or a lack of regulation by vitamin D.

According to the NCI, high cholesterol levels are only linked with an increased risk for developing prostate cancer and not with the development of other forms of cancer. New studies have indicated that a higher intake of vitamin D may decrease a man’s risk of developing prostate cancer or slow the rate of progression once a man has already developed prostate cancer. Read more about studies on vitamin D and cancer below.

Studies on Vitamin D and Prostate Cancer

Researchers have been investigating the link between vitamin D and prostate cancer for at least 20 years, but have run into some difficulties proving the link between the vitamin and a reduction in prostate cancer risk.

Studies on the geographic patterns of deaths in American men between 1950 and 1994 conducted by the National Cancer Institute found that more men died from prostate cancer in areas with the lowest levels of UV radiation.

One population study conducted by the National Cancer Institute over a 5-year period found that individuals with prostate cancer were more likely to have low vitamin D levels. A similar population study found that high and medium levels of vitamin D may be a contributing factor to better cancer outcomes.

Studies published in 1995 and 1996 in the journals Endocrinology and Cancer Research showed similar results. These studies found that individuals with higher levels of vitamin D were less likely to have prostate cancer- or had less aggressive forms of the disease. The Endocrinology study found that cancer cells were inhibited by the application of vitamin D3 in vitro.

In 2006, a study examined the link between sunlight exposure and prostate cancer. This study found that PSA levels rose at a slower rate during the spring and summer when sun exposure is more common.

One 2011 study found that when mice were injected with prostate cancer cells, mice who had the highest level of vitamin D developed fewer bone tumors. The rate of tumor growth in soft tissue remained the same.

In May of 2014, another study published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research found a link between low blood levels of vitamin D and aggressive cases of prostate cancer. This study found that men with dark skin were more likely to have prostate cancer if their vitamin D levels were low.

According to the study authors, vitamin D “seems to regulate normal differentiation of cells as they change from stem cells to adult cells. And it regulates the growth rate of normal cells and cancer cells." In this study, researchers checked the vitamin D levels of 667 men between the ages of 40 and 79 who had had a prostate biopsy after an abnormal prostate specific antigen (PSA) test. All men tested had vitamin D levels around or under 20 nanograms per milliliter ng/ml, which is lower than normal levels between 30 to 80 nanograms per milliliter. 44 percent of the men tested had low vitamin D levels, while 38 percent of men who tested positive for cancer had low vitamin D levels.

The men with the lowest level of vitamin D, around 12 ng/ml, had the most advanced and aggressive form of cancer. Men with dark skin who had vitamin D levels around 12 ng/ml were more likely to have cancer and more aggressive forms of it.

The most recent study on the link between vitamin D and prostate cancer was published in the journal Prostate in October 2014. This study, conducted by the University of Colorado Cancer Center, found that inflammation could be the link between vitamin D and prostate cancer. The researchers found that a gene upregulated by vitamin D, gene GDF-15, is absent in samples of prostate cancer driven by inflammation. According to the researchers, placing vitamin D on prostate cancer cells inhibits their growth, but is not listed as an anti-cancer agent.

Instead, vitamin D turns on the gene which is able to slow prostate cancer growth. However, the team found that vitamin D was only helpful in cancers driven by inflammation. "Inflammation is thought to drive many cancers including prostate, gastric and colon. Therefore, GDF-15 may be a good thing in keeping prostate tissue healthy – it suppresses inflammation, which is a bad actor potentially driving prostate cancer," the study researchers noted. GDF-15 was also shown to suppress inflammation by inhibiting the inflammation-causing gene, NFkB.

However, multi-study reviews on the link between vitamin D and cancer did not find a strong link between vitamin D levels and cancer risk or growth. Most researchers conclude that further research is necessary.

How Vitamin D May Prevent Prostate Cancer

According to the study published in the journal Prostate, vitamin D is most effective on cancer related to inflammation. According to the National Cancer Institute, vitamin D has many roles in the body, one of which is reducing inflammation. It could be that this simple function of vitamin D is strong enough to inhibit the spread of cancer cells which spread due to inflammation.

Since prostate cancer is one of the least dangerous forms of cancer, introducing the inflammation-fighting properties of vitamin D may be all it takes to prevent the disease from spreading rapidly or to other areas of the body. Vitamin D treatments have not been proven to heal or prevent cancer, and no studies have been conducted on how effective vitamin D may be at slowing the growth of prostate cancer, but enough evidence points to causation between these two incidences to take note.

According to the National Cancer Institute, one study found that vitamin D may prevent cancer cells from sticking to endothelium, which is a layer of cells that lines the inside of body cavities, lymph vessels, and blood vessels. As the above studies showed, the best form of vitamin D for controlling inflammation and preventing the spread of prostate cancer is vitamin D3, which is the form of vitamin D formed on the skin after exposure to sunlight. You can also find this form of vitamin D in supplement form and in many animal products including: fatty fish, eggs, dairy products, and fish liver oil.

Other Benefits of Vitamin D
  • Helps maximize use of calcium
  • Improves muscle strength
  • Improves the immune system
  • Reduces overall inflammation
  • Helps maintain electrolyte balance in the blood
  • Builds strong bones and teeth

Are There Any Clinical Trials Testing Vitamin D and Prostate Cancer?

According to the National Cancer Institute, one past trial treated prostate cancer patients with vitamin D whose cancer had returned. In the trial, these patients were treated with a mixture of vitamin D3 and naproxen for a year. This combination was able to slow the rate of their rising PSA levels.

In 2009, men with locally advanced or metastatic prostate cancer were given vitamin D treatments. One out of five men who took vitamin D showed improved PSA levels.

In 2010, story participants with prostate cancer that had not responded to hormone therapy were treated with vitamin D3 and dexamethasone. In this case, the treatment did not slow the rise in PSA levels. Currently, vitamin D is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a cancer treatment.

How to Use Vitamin D against Prostate Cancer

According to the NCI, individuals with vitamin D levels below normal levels of 30 to 80 nanograms per milliliter were at a higher risk for developing prostate cancer and having it spread. Vitamin D was mainly shown to help in prostate cancer triggered by inflammation.

To maintain optimal vitamin D levels, the website Vitamin D3 recommends a simple calculation. This calculation is your body weight times 27. This is how many IUs of vitamin D you should consume (or get from the sun) daily. For a 200 pound man, this would equal 5400 IU daily.

To ensure you don’t supplement with too much vitamin D, adjust for potential sunlight exposure. Estimate how much of your skin is exposed to the sun daily (as a percentage) and double it. Then, subtract that number from your recommended daily intake.

For example, if you expose 30 percent of your body to direct sunlight for at least 15 minutes a day, you could subtract the 60 percent (3240) from your 5400 dose, meaning you would need to consume about 2160 IU daily.

In general, exposing about 50 percent of your body to direct sunlight daily for 30 minutes gives you enough natural vitamin D so you don’t have to supplement. Of course, few people get enough sun exposure, particularly in the cold months, so vitamin D supplements are beneficial for everyone, not just men trying to prevent prostate cancer.

Take note that most vitamin D doses in supplement form contain low doses per pill- sometimes varying between 500 IU and 2,000 IU. Adjust how much you consume based on how large of a dose eat pill contains.

Other Beneficial Steps to Prevent Prostate Cancer

According to the NCI, a few other supplements have been linked with a possible benefit with the treatment or prevention of prostate cancer. These supplements include:

Other Supplements for Prostate Cancer
  • Soy extract
  • Lycopene
  • Selenium
  • Saw palmetto
  • Pygeum extract (sometimes called African cherry)

It may be possible that taking these supplements in combination with vitamin D can slow the progression of prostate cancer or reduce your chances of developing prostate cancer. Additional data from the NCI also suggests that cutting back on animal product consumption, keeping cholesterol levels low, and reducing overall inflammation in the body will also lower your risk for developing prostate cancer.

Vitamin D and Prostate Health

Prostate cancer is a disease that strikes between one in five and one in seven men living in the United States. This makes it a widespread problem that can have serious consequences. While prostate cancer is not as deadly or aggressive as some other forms of cancer, it can still cause discomfort and even death in some men. New studies show that vitamin D could be helpful in preventing the spread of prostate cancer by preventing the growth of cancer cells. Men who take vitamin D and receive plenty of sun exposure may be able to reduce their risk of developing prostate cancer by a significant percentage.

According to the NCI, supplementing with vitamin D and other prostate cancer-fighting supplements and lifestyle changes can significantly lower your chances of getting prostate cancer.





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