Dr. Randy Martin: We hear all the time how vitamin D can be beneficial to our health – but how exactly does it help and can it even prevent cancer? I met with Shayna Komar, R.D., a registered dietitian at Piedmont Hospital’s Cancer Wellness, and Barbara Croft, M.D., a gynecologist at Piedmont Hospital, to get their take.
“Vitamin D is actually a hormone – a lot of people don’t know that,” Komar explains. “It is in our body and is activated by the sun. It ‘turns on’ genes and gets more than 200 genes working in our body.”
Vitamin D is especially crucial for a strong immune system and for bone health, she adds.
Many recent studies have examined vitamin D’s effects on cancer prevention, which Komar acknowledges is controversial.
“We are finding that many people are low in vitamin D…but our immune system is not working up to par if we don’t have our vitamin D,” she says. “[In this regard], cancer and a lot of other diseases could be affected by vitamin D intake.”
Vitamin D and the relationship to cancer
“If you already have cancer, that is a different story,” Komar says. “There was a study where [researchers] tested a group of cancer patients in Pennsylvania and 77 percent of them were low in vitamin D.”
In the study, when doctors administered appropriate levels of vitamin D, patients started to see improved health.
“There is some research that is trying to [determine] who gets cancer and what their vitamin D levels are,” Dr. Croft explains. “There has been some suggestion that there is a linear relationship – lower levels [of vitamin D equals] more cancers.”
Despite this initial indication, Dr. Croft cautions that more research is needed because patients may have low levels of the vitamin for other reasons.
If you are concerned about cancer prevention, Dr. Croft recommends taking a daily multivitamin.
“Nearly every multivitamin these days has 400 IU,” she says.
She also recommends that patients get their vitamin D levels checked when they have blood work done. Your doctor will be able to determine if you need to take supplements in order for your levels to be within an optimal range.
Dr. Martin: While more research is needed to determine vitamin D’s effects on cancer treatment and prevention, taking a daily multivitamin could be beneficial. Talk to your doctor first before beginning any new vitamin regimen.