New research reveals the cancer-fighting power of Vitamin D

Apr 26, 2024
Previous studies have indicated that a link between vitamin D deficiency and cancer risk in humans exists. Source: AP PHOTO.

Vitamin D has long been lauded for its health benefits, whether it be protecting older adults from osteoporosis or improving cognitive function. Now recent research has revealed a possible link between vitamin D and improved immunity to cancer.

Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Aalborg University in Denmark found that, in mice, the vitamin encourages the growth of a type of gut bacteria that provides animals with greater immunity against the disease and improved responses to immunotherapy treatment.

“What we’ve shown here came as a surprise – vitamin D can regulate the gut microbiome to favour a type of bacteria which gives mice better immunity to cancer,” said senior author Caetano Reis e Sousa, head of the Immunobiology Laboratory at the Francis Crick Institute.

“This could one day be important for cancer treatment in humans, but we don’t know how and why vitamin D has this effect via the microbiome.

“More work is needed before we can conclusively say that correcting a vitamin D deficiency has benefits for cancer prevention or treatment.”

Researchers found that when vitamin D interacts with specific cells in the intestine, a greater amount of a bacteria called Bacteroides fragilis is produced.

The increase in this bacteria meant the tumours did not grow as much, suggesting to researchers that the microbe offered greater immunity to cancer.

In order to test this theory, mice on a normal diet were given the bacteria. These mice were better able to resist tumour growth but not when the mice were placed on a vitamin D-deficient diet.

Previous studies have indicated that a link between vitamin D deficiency and cancer risk in humans exists.

To investigate this further, researchers analysed a dataset from 1.5 million people in Denmark, which highlighted a link between lower vitamin D levels and a higher risk of cancer. A separate analysis of a group of people diagnosed with cancer suggested that people with higher vitamin D levels were more likely to respond well to immune-based cancer treatments.

While more research is needed to establish whether vitamin D helps provide some immune resistance to cancer, Evangelos Giampazolias, former postdoctoral researcher at the Crick, and now group leader of the Cancer Immunosurveillance Group at the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, said the findings were encouraging.

“A key question we are currently trying to answer is how exactly vitamin D supports a ‘good’ microbiome,” he said.

“If we can answer this, we might uncover new ways in which the microbiome influences the immune system, potentially offering exciting possibilities in preventing or treating cancer.”

-with PA.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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