Previous research in the laboratory has suggested that vitamin D may have anti-tumour properties, but this is the first epidemiological study to show that intake of the vitamin is associated with reduced risk of cancer of the pancreas.
The study included data from 46,771 men aged 40–75 years who took part in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, and 75,427 women aged 38–65 years who took part in the Nurses Health study. Overall, there were 365 cases of pancreatic cancer in both cohorts.
The researchers compared levels of vitamin D supplementation in patients who developed pancreatic cancer with those who did not develop cancer.
They found that taking vitamin D supplements up to the daily recommended level reduced the risk of pancreatic cancer.
People who took the maximum daily recommended allowance of 400IU daily vitamin D had a 43 per cent reduced risk of developing pancreatic cancer compared to those who did not take any vitamin D
supplement. Those who took 150IU daily vitamin D had a 22 per cent reduced risk.
However, taking more than the recommended amount of daily vitamin D provided no extra protection.
Lead researcher Dr Halcyon Skinner from Northwestern University in Chicago said: ‘We observed a reduced risk for pancreatic cancer with higher intake for vitamin D.
‘In concert with laboratory results suggesting anti-tumour effects of vitamin D, our results point to a role for vitamin D in the prevention of pancreatic cancer.’
He added that boosting vitamin D exposure through sunlight or from natural dietary sources might be more beneficial than from dietary supplements.
‘Areas with greater sunlight exposure have lower incidence and mortality for prostate, breast and colon cancers,’ he said.