With the exception of skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among women – with the disease claiming the lives of about 41,000 women every year in the United States. Thankfully, there is mounting evidence that maintaining healthy vitamin D levels can protect against a variety of diseases, especially breast cancer.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that women are at increasing risk for breast cancer as they age, and notes that the average age of diagnosis for women is 61. Now, a new study involving postmenopausal female participants over 55 shows that increasing vitamin D levels can help cut the risk in this group.
Let’s take a closer look at the encouraging scientific findings.
Higher vitamin D levels in the blood will slash breast cancer risk
According to a new study conducted by researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine and published in June in PLOS One, higher levels of vitamin D are linked with decreasing risk of breast cancer.
To conduct the study, the team analyzed data from randomized clinical trials and prospective studies involving over 5,000 female participants, with an average age of 63.
And, the results set a remarkable new standard for what scientists consider to be “healthy” blood levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D (the form vitamin D takes in the body).
The study suggests that the minimum vitamin D blood level for protective health benefits is 60 nanograms per milliliter – exactly three times the amount of 20 ng/mL recommended in 2010 by the National Academy of Medicine.
Maintaining optimal levels of vitamin D appears to result in a very substantial health dividend.
According to the study’s lead author Dr. Cedric F. Garland – an adjunct professor in the UC San Diego Department of Family Medicine and Public Health – participants with blood levels above 60 ng/mL had one-fifth the risk of breast cancer when compared to women with levels of under 20 ng/mL.
Garland noted that the study shows the “strongest association yet” between vitamin D levels and reduction in breast cancer risk.
Vitamin D study built on previous research
The latest study built on previous epidemiological research on the relationship between breast cancer and vitamin D.
For example, the “Sister Study,” published in July 2017 in Environmental Health Perspectives, assessed women with sisters who had been diagnosed with breast cancer – a fact that placed the women at higher breast cancer risk – and compared the participants who eventually developed breast cancer with a group of cancer-free women.
The team found that women with vitamin D levels of at least 38 ng/mL were 21 percent less likely to develop cancer, when compared with women who had levels of 24.6 ng/mL or less.
(Note: a measurement of under 20 ng/mL of vitamin D is considered a deficiency).
Researchers also found that taking a vitamin D supplement at least four times a week could cut cancer risk by 11 percent.
And the association was even more pronounced in postmenopausal women. Supplement use in this group was linked to a 17 percent reduced risk for breast cancer.
Exciting news: Vitamin D seems to increase odds of breast cancer survival
Healthy vitamin D levels have been associated with lowered risk of bladder cancer, heart attack, heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. (Bonus: scientists say that this indispensable nutrient also helps to activate longevity genes.)
Dr. Garland, a longtime advocate of vitamin D and its health benefits, has linked the nutrient in previous research with reductions in risk of multiple myeloma and adult leukemia, along with lung and bladder cancers.
Even more encouragingly – evidence suggests that vitamin D can not only help prevent cancer, but actually lead to better outcomes in women who do develop the disease.
According to a study published in JAMA Oncology, breast cancer patients with the highest blood serum levels of vitamin D had the highest likelihood of surviving the disease.