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Could Vitamin D Supplements Prolong the Lives of Cancer Patients?

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, with prostate cancer alone being the second leading cause of death among men. While approximately 23,800 adults and 4,830 children are diagnosed with cancerous tumors of the brain and spinal cord every year, while breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer, skin cancer, and others dominated the list of the most prevalent diagnoses last year. In 2018 alone, an estimated 1,735,350 new cases of cancer were diagnosed, with over 600,000 people dying from these diseases. But according to new research, it’s possible that something as simple as a vitamin supplement could extend the lifespan of these patients.

According to Michigan State University researchers, there may be a connection between the use of vitamin D supplements and a lowered cancer death risk. During randomized, controlled trials over a three to four year span, it was discovered that those patients who took vitamin D supplements (as compared to a placebo pill) had a 13% lower risk of dying from cancer. A lack of vitamin D is believed to reduce fat breakdown and trigger fat storage, which can lead to higher weight gain (of two to four pounds a year, on average) during the colder months. Taking vitamin D can promote bone health, reduce inflammation, and increase cell growth.

But as far as the reasons behind vitamin D’s apparent positive effect on cancer patient lifespan, researchers don’t yet have all the answers. There’s no reason to believe that vitamin D has the power to prevent cancer, but the statistical difference between the two groups’ results was significant enough to explore the effects of this supplement further. And while just 2 degrees Celsius of temperature variation can completely ruin any pharmaceutical product, when stored properly and taken as directed, vitamin D comes with minimal side effects. What’s more, because it’s found in very few foods naturally — our greatest source of vitamin D typically comes with sun exposure — adding these supplements into one’s routine might be a healthy choice for a variety of individuals, regardless of cancer diagnoses.

Though the results show promise, lead study author Tarek Haykal explained in the report, “There are still many questions and more research is needed. All we can say is that at least three years of taking the supplement is required to see any effect.”

That said, Haykal and others are in support of more medical professionals recommending an increased intake of vitamin D, particularly in cases involving cancer patients. Although it may not be immediately clear how this supplement works to extend lifespans, its benefits might be compelling enough to convince many that taking extra vitamin D won’t hurt.

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