When you grab your favorite cereal, pour it into a bowl and make it swim in milk, you're not just treating yourself to a delicious breakfast, you are aiding in your health. The vitamin D found in cereals and milk may help you ward off certain cancers, including colon, breast, prostate and pancreatic. It may also improve cancer survival rates, according to some scientists who are studying its effects.
If you aren't a cereal and milk type of person, you can get vitamin D naturally through sun exposure, or you can take supplements. Either way you choose, you are doing your body a favor. Here's how:
Vitamin D and Cancer: The Link
Cancer occurs when certain cells mutate and grow out of control. You might be surprised to discover that cells mutate in your body all the time, and there could be any number of reasons for it. However, under normal circumstances, your immune system recognizes these abnormal cells and gets rid of them before they can do harm.
A possible link between cancer and vitamin D was suggested nearly 30 years ago, after early epidemiologic research found that cancer survival rates were higher among individuals living in southern regions versus northern regions. In southern latitudes, people are more exposed to sunlight, as opposed to colder, northern latitudes. Ultraviolet light, in particular, is what sparks vitamin D production. Because of these findings, researchers hypothesized that vitamin D levels might improve cancer survival rates.
The same conclusion has been drawn in several studies that have followed, including one released in March 2014 by the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. Researchers believe that the metabolites found in vitamin D might turn on a protein that inhibits aggressive cell division, thus preventing tumors. It may also keep cancer from spreading, especially through the blood. Some experimental evidence suggests that the vitamin has the ability to:
- Stimulate cell death (apoptosis)
- Reduce tumor blood vessel formation
- Lower cancer cell growth
- Help cellular differentiation
Still, despite this promising information, there is no hard evidence. This is because there are barriers to research. For instance, it is challenging to determine a person's true vitamin D status since their levels may fluctuate. Additionally, many studies do not consider other healthy behaviors, such as diet and exercise, that could be influencing the individual's cancer risk. According to cancer.gov, chances are that a person's cancer risk is not determined solely on their vitamin D levels, rather other factors may come into play.
Why Vitamin D is Still Important
Although evidence does not clearly state that a person's vitamin D levels will improve their cancer survival rate or ward off certain cancers, the immune system uses the vitamin to regulate itself and fight off bacteria and viruses. Muscles also use it to move more easily, and nerves use it to carry messages between the brain and other parts of the body.
Other benefits include:
- Helping the body absorb calcium and phosphorous
- Reducing one's risk of osteoporosis (older adults) and rickets (children)
- Aiding in bone and bone tissue formation
- Assisting in growth and development
- Strengthening bones and teeth
- Reducing the number of bone fractures
- Balancing surgar levels in the blood
- Regulating the secretion of insulin
When it comes down to it, vitamin D is essential to your overall health. If you have a vitamin D deficiency, a number of health risks can arise. So, get it when and however you can, but be careful not to overconsume. Doing so can be harmful. Talk to your physician about what your daily intake should be, as it may vary from person to person, particularly the elderly and pregnant women.