Feb 17, 2018 | Updated: 09:54 AM EDT

Vitamin D Joins the Fight Against Colon Cancer

Jan 20, 2015 12:58 PM EST

Physicians have known for quite some time how great Vitamin D is for humans.  It can be essential in preventative measures from many diseases and it has proven help people prevent many other major health risks and ailments too.

While Vitamin D may be called a vitamin, it is actually not a vitamin at all.  It is, in fact, fat-soluble secosteroids  that humans and other living things obtain from exposure to the sun. It is essential in many aspects of the human life, such as the absorption of Calcium within the body. Researchers suggest that by simply reducing the number of people suffering from vitamin D deficiency could save more than one million people from premature death due to many chronic diseases a year.

But now a new report suggests that it may in fact save many more lives by also aiding us in the fight against colorectal cancer, as well.  The study, conducted by scientists from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, has concluded that vitamin D actually helps the body fight against colorectal cancer by boosting the body's immune system.  The study published in the journal Gut adds to a growing body of research showing a link between vitamin D and how the immune system responds to cancer cells.

Researchers analyzed data from 170,000 participants of two long-term research projects -- the Nurses' Health Study and the Health Professional Follow-up Study.  Participants with high amounts of vitamin D in their systems were found to be less likely to develop colorectal tumors permeated with large numbers of immune system cells.

"People with high levels of vitamin D in their bloodstream have a lower overall risk of developing colorectal cancer" lead researcher of the study, Dr. Shuji Ogino says."Laboratory research suggests that vitamin D boosts immune system function by activating T cells that recognize and attack cancer cells."

"In this study, we wanted to determine if these two phenomena are related...Does vitamin D's role in the immune system account for the lower rates of colorectal cancer in people with high circulating levels of the vitamin?"

Colorectal cancer, or colon cancer for short, is the second biggest cancer killer in the United States.  These cancers can occur in the colon or rectum, and grow from abnormal growths known as polyps in the colon.  Over time, while often benign, some of these polyps may turn into cancer.  Screening tests can find polyps so they can be removed before turning into cancer, and can also help identify the cancer at an early stage, often leading to a successful treatment of the cancer.

This new research shows how by maintaining increased levels of vitamin D in our systems we may be able to limit the risk of developing colon cancer in the future, as well.

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