When you think of vitamin D, chances are you think of its role in keeping bones healthy by helping the body absorb calcium. You may be surprised to learn there is also a link between vitamin D and prostate cancer – the second most common cancer in men, affecting one in six men in this country.
The Latest Research Offers Some Interesting Observations:
- Men with the lowest levels of vitamin D had the highest risk of getting prostate cancer.
- Men who have prostate cancer tend to have lower levels of vitamin D.
- Men with healthy levels of vitamin D tend to have less aggressive cancers and lower rates of death from prostate cancer.
- Prostate cancer rates in the U.S. are highest in areas that get the least amount of sun. (The body makes vitamin D from sunlight.)
Because most of the studies on vitamin D and prostate cancer have been observational, more research needs to be conducted to determine the potential effectiveness of vitamin D in preventing, treating, or managing prostate cancer.
With that said, the overall health benefits of vitamin D are so solid, and the observational findings on prostate cancer so compelling, it makes sense to be sure you maintain healthy levels of vitamin D. This is particularly true if you have other risk factors for developing prostate cancer:
- Are over age 50
- Are African American
- Have a father, brother or son who has had prostate cancer
How to Get Enough Vitamin D
According to the National Institutes of Health, the recommended dietary allowance of vitamin D for men under 70 is 600 IU/day; men 70 and older should be getting 800 IU/day. Here are some good sources:
- Fatty fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel, and fish liver oils
- Fortified foods including milk, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, and some orange juice, yogurt, and margarine. Check the labels.
What About Sun?
While sun is important in helping the body absorb vitamin D, UV radiation accounts for most of the 1.5 million skin cancers in the U.S. each year. Sun exposure when not wearing sunscreen should be limited to 10-15 minutes three times a week.
Food is the preferable source for vitamin D, with supplements filling in the gaps as recommended by your doctor.
A Word About Prostate Cancer Screening
Your doctor can also discuss the latest prostate cancer screening recommendations. Prostate-specific antigen (PSA)-based screening is a simple screening test, though some complex decision making may be involved in determining if the test is right for you.
The American Cancer Society recommends men age 50 (45 if you are African American or have a relative who had prostate cancer) talk with their doctor about PSA-based screening. The U.S. Preventative Task Force (USPTF), on the other hand, recommends against the screening.
Bottom line: Shared decision making between patient and doctor is essential in helping men sort out how PSA-based screening could affect their health and impact survival. There is no longer one standard approach for everyone.