Vitamin D Lowers Pancreatic Cancer Risk

Healthnotes Newswire (November 16, 2006)—People who get more vitamin D seem to be at lower risk for developing pancreatic cancer, according to a recent report in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention. This information adds to a growing body of evidence supporting the role of vitamin D in cancer prevention.

Cigarette smoking, diabetes, being overweight, and exposure to certain chemicals can increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Some studies have linked diets high in animal fats with an increased risk of the disease.

Located behind the stomach, the pancreas plays important roles in digestion and metabolism. People with advanced pancreatic cancer often suffer from severe weight loss and malnutrition as the organ loses its capacity to perform these tasks.

Pancreatic cancer hardly ever causes symptoms in its early stages, so most people aren’t diagnosed until the cancer has invaded the surrounding organs and tissues. As it is difficult to treat once it has spread and there are no tests for early detection, prevention is key.

Two large studies—the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study—gave some insight into the use of vitamin D for the prevention of pancreatic cancer. For 16 years, 122,198 men and women kept track of their dietary habits and supplement use. The more vitamin D people got from diet and supplements, the lower their risk of developing pancreatic cancer. People who got more than 600 IU of vitamin D each day were 41% less likely to develop pancreatic cancer than were people who got less than 150 IU each day.

The extra vitamin D provided by a multivitamin seemed to make the difference. Although people who got a lot of vitamin D from diet alone—fortified foods, fatty fish, whole eggs, and liver—were less likely to develop pancreatic cancer, it wasn’t enough to substantially lower their risk.

The authors commented, “A potential limitation of our study is that dietary intake of vitamin D may not reflect internal vitamin D status because it does not account for the [vitamin D obtained from sunlight].”

Besides multivitamins and fortified foods, another rich source of vitamin D is cod liver oil. Just one teaspoon provides 400 IU of natural vitamin D, as well as plenty of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

(Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2006;15:1688–95)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.

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