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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

D is for Defense: Deterring MS and Cancer via Vitamin D

Based on the BromsaMS Wikidot web article “Vitamin D And Multiple Sclerosis” and the Nutrition Journal web article “Nutrition and cancer: A review of the evidence for an anti-cancer diet” by Michael S Donaldson

Edited (with Introduction) by Dr. Don Rose


Various studies indicate that higher levels of Vitamin D in the body are associated with reduced risk or recurrence of MS (Multiple Sclerosis) and cancer. While more study is needed to establish whether increasing Vitamin D levels with supplements will reduce the risk of disease, it appears that, in general, supplements can provide a very low cost and safe form of “insurance” for your health. In other words, there doesn’t seem to be much downside to taking supplements like Vitamin D, yet a very large potential upside. (Of course, always consult your doctor before taking any supplements.) Read below for more details. --D.R.



Vitamin D is produced primarily from the exposure of the skin to sunshine. Even casual exposure of the face, hands, and arms in the summer generates a large amount of vitamin D. In fact, simulated sunshine, equivalent to standing on a sunny beach until a slight pinkness of the skin was detected, was equivalent to a 20,000 IU oral dose of vitamin D2 [1]. (Note that the RDA is 400 IU for most adults.) It has been estimated that 1,000 IU per day is the minimal amount needed to maintain adequate levels of vitamin D in the absence of sunshine [1], and that up to 4,000 IU per day can be safely used with additional benefit [2].

Vitamin D and MS

Good news about Vitamin D: researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health have found that the risk of MS is lowest among people whose Vitamin D levels are high. While other research has suggested this link, the Harvard study is the first to indicate that increasing Vitamin D levels could help prevent MS, a chronic degenerative neurological disease that affects some 350,000 people in the United States and two million worldwide.

Working with researchers from the U.S. Army and Navy, the Harvard team analyzed stored serum samples from more than seven million individuals for levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D]. They found that the risk of MS among whites whose Vitamin D levels were highest was 62 percent lower than among those whose levels were lowest. No significant associations were found among blacks and Hispanics, perhaps because there were fewer of their serum samples available or because these groups tend to have low Vitamin D levels. More study is needed to establish whether increasing Vitamin D levels with supplements will reduce the risk of MS. The study was published in the December 20, 2006 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Vitamin D and Cancer

The concentration of the active hormonal form of vitamin D is tightly regulated in the blood by the kidneys. This active hormonal form of vitamin D has the potent anti-cancer properties. It has been discovered that various types of normal and cancerous tissues, including prostate cells [3], colon tissue [4], breast, ovarian and cervical tissue [5], pancreatic tissue [6] and a lung cancer cell line [7] all have the ability to convert the major circulating form of vitamin D, 25(OH)D, into the active hormonal form, 1,25(OH)2D. So, there is a local mechanism in many tissues of the body for converting the form of vitamin D in the body that is elevated by sunshine exposure into a hormone that has anticancer activity.

Indeed, 25(OH)D has been shown to inhibit growth of colonic epithelial cells [8], primary prostatic epithelial cells [9], and pancreatic cells [6]. So, the laboratory work is confirming what had been seen some time ago in ecological studies of populations and sunshine exposure.

The mortality rates for colon, breast, and ovary cancer in the USA show a marked north-south gradient [10]. In ecological studies of populations and sunlight exposure, sunlight has been found to have a protective effect for prostate cancer [11], ovarian cancer [12], and breast cancer [13]. Recently Grant found that sunlight was also protective for bladder, endometrial, renal cancer, multiple myeloma, and Non-Hodgkins lymphoma in Europe [14] and bladder, esophageal, kidney, lung, pancreatic, rectal, stomach, and corpus uteri cancer in the USA [15]. Several prospective studies of vitamin D and cancer have also shown a protective effect from vitamin D. It could be that sunshine and vitamin D are protective factors for cancers of many organs that can convert 25(OH)D into 1,25(OH)D2.


1. Holick MF: Vitamin D: importance in the prevention of cancers, type 1 diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis.Am J Clin Nutr 2004, 79:362-371. [PubMed Abstract]

2. Vieth R, Kimball S, Hu A, Walfish PG: Randomized comparison of the effects of the vitamin D3 adequate intake versus 100 mcg (4000 IU) per day on biochemical responses and the wellbeing of patients.Nutr J 2004, 3:8. [PubMed Abstract][PubMed Central Full Text]

3. Schwartz GG, Whitlatch LW, Chen TC, Lokeshwar BL, Holick MF: Human prostate cells synthesize 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 from 25-hydroxyvitamin D3.Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 1998, 7:391-395. [PubMed Abstract]

4. Tangpricha V, Flanagan JN, Whitlatch LW, Tseng CC, Chen TC, Holt PR, Lipkin MS, Holick MF: 25-hydroxyvitamin D-1alpha-hydroxylase in normal and malignant colon tissue.Lancet 2001, 357:1673-1674. [PubMed Abstract]

5. Friedrich M, Rafi L, Mitschele T, Tilgen W, Schmidt W, Reichrath J: Analysis of the vitamin D system in cervical carcinomas, breast cancer and ovarian cancer.Recent Results Cancer Res 2003, 164:239-246. [PubMed Abstract]

6. Schwartz GG, Eads D, Rao A, Cramer SD, Willingham MC, Chen TC, Jamieson DP, Wang L, Burnstein KL, Holick MF, Koumenis C: Pancreatic cancer cells express 25-hydroxyvitamin D-1alpha-hydroxylase and their proliferation is inhibited by the prohormone 25-hydroxyvitamin D3.Carcinogenesis 2004, 25:1015-1026. [PubMed Abstract] Epub 2004 Jan 1023.

7. Mawer EB, Hayes ME, Heys SE, Davies M, White A, Stewart MF, Smith GN: Constitutive synthesis of 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 by a human small cell lung cancer cell line.J Clin Endocrinol Metab 1994, 79:554-560. [PubMed Abstract]

8. Holt PR, Arber N, Halmos B, Forde K, Kissileff H, McGlynn KA, Moss SF, Kurihara N, Fan K, Yang K, Lipkin M: Colonic epithelial cell proliferation decreases with increasing levels of serum 25-hydroxy vitamin D.Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2002, 11:113-119. [PubMed Abstract]

9. Barreto AM, Schwartz GG, Woodruff R, Cramer SD: 25-Hydroxyvitamin D3, the prohormone of 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3, inhibits the proliferation of primary prostatic epithelial cells.Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2000, 9:265-270. [PubMed Abstract]

10. Sunlight, Nutrition And Health Research Center[]

11. Hanchette CL, Schwartz GG: Geographic patterns of prostate cancer mortality. Evidence for a protective effect of ultraviolet radiation.Cancer 1992, 70:2861-2869. [PubMed Abstract]

12. Lefkowitz ES, Garland CF: Sunlight, vitamin D, and ovarian cancer mortality rates in US women.Int J Epidemiol 1994, 23:1133-1136. [PubMed Abstract]

13. Gorham ED, Garland FC, Garland CF: Sunlight and breast cancer incidence in the USSR.Int J Epidemiol 1990, 19:820-824. [PubMed Abstract]

14. Grant WB: Ecologic studies of solar UV-B radiation and cancer mortality rates.Recent Results Cancer Res 2003, 164:371-377. [PubMed Abstract]

15. Grant WB: An estimate of premature cancer mortality in the U.S. due to inadequate doses of solar ultraviolet-B radiation.Cancer 2002, 94:1867-1875. [PubMed Abstract]


The BromsaMS Wikidot article cited above is covered by a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. The referenced Nutrition Journal article is governed by an Open Access license.

Dr. Don Rose writes books, papers and articles on many topics, including computers, the Internet, artificial intelligence, science and technology, and issues related to seniors.

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