Vitamin D: A Key to a Longer Life?

accreditation

Higher levels of vitamin D may protect people from an earlier death, particularly from cancer and heart disease, suggests a new analysis of existing research.

And, the opposite may also be true -- low levels of vitamin D may be linked to a higher risk of premature death.

But the researchers acknowledge that the review's findings aren't definitive.

"People with low vitamin D die more frequently from heart disease and cancer, but it is not known if the low vitamin D is a cause of these diseases or just a byproduct of generally poor health," said study lead author Ben Schoettker, a post-doctoral scientist with the German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg, Germany.

Read: The miracle of vitamin D

Still, the research published online June 17 in BMJ does hint at the possibility that vitamin D may benefit people across genders, ages and Western countries, including the United States. The findings are "compellingly consistent," Schoettker said.

Vitamin D is a hot topic in the medical world. Studies have both supported and debunked its supposed powers as a booster of lifespans. Researchers are looking forward to future studies that they expect to be more definitive.

Vitamin D is nicknamed the sunshine vitamin because the body produces vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. People also get vitamin D through foods like eggs, milk, yogurt, tuna, salmon, cereal and orange juice.

The current analysis only examined what happened to people with various levels of vitamin D in their bodies. The studies included in this analysis didn't go a step further to randomly assign participants to take vitamin D supplements or an inactive placebo. That kind of study would cost much more, Schoettker said.

What did the study say?

The researchers examined eight studies from Europe and the United States that together tracked more than 26 000 nonsmoking men and women. They were all between ages 50 and 79. About 6 700 participants died during the time period of the studies, mostly of heart disease or cancer.

Those with the lowest levels of vitamin D were about 1.5 times more likely than those with the highest levels to die from any cause and from heart disease during the periods of the studies. Those with low levels of vitamin D and a history of cancer were 1.7 times more likely to die of the disease. People who hadn't previously had cancer saw no change in the risk of cancer death by vitamin D levels.

"Very low vitamin D levels are mainly associated with higher age and lower physical activity," which could lead to less exposure to the sun, Schoettker noted.

Read: Kids need Vitamin D
 
On the other hand, "the reasons for very high vitamin D levels are unknown," he added.

The researchers pointed out that vitamin D may not change levels of risk for health problems and earlier deaths. It's possible that levels of vitamin D reflect overall health. Low levels of vitamin D may just be a sign of poor health rather than a cause of it, according to the study.

It's not clear how vitamin D could help people live longer, but it might have something to do with the way it acts like a hormone, said Susan Mayne, chair of the department of chronic disease epidemiology at Yale School of Public Health. Still, she said, the science linking the vitamin to heart disease and cancer is in its early stages.

For now, both Mayne and Schoettker said people should follow the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine regarding vitamin D. Its 2010 report says most Americans and Canadians already get enough vitamin D. It says nothing about whether people with heart disease or cancer should take supplements, however.


Read more:

Vitamin D counters TB
The wow about vitamin D
Vitamin D supplements not always helpful


We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Zama zama crackdown: What are your thoughts on West Village residents taking the law into their own hands?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Authorities should bring in the army already
11% - 2295 votes
Illegal miners can't be scapegoated for all crime
48% - 9924 votes
What else did we expect without no proper policing
37% - 7635 votes
Vigilante groups are also part of the problem
4% - 757 votes
Vote
Rand - Dollar
16.69
-1.8%
Rand - Pound
20.09
-1.2%
Rand - Euro
16.96
-1.7%
Rand - Aus dollar
11.54
-0.2%
Rand - Yen
0.12
-0.9%
Gold
1,762.18
-0.8%
Silver
19.73
-2.0%
Palladium
2,139.50
-1.0%
Platinum
925.00
-1.4%
Brent Crude
92.34
-3.0%
Top 40
64,168
-0.9%
All Share
70,967
-0.8%
Resource 10
63,227
-3.3%
Industrial 25
87,430
+0.4%
Financial 15
16,160
-0.5%
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.

LEARN MORE