Vitamin D may prevent autoimmune diseases, cancer

by Jeff Gelski
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ANAHEIM, CALIF. — Besides its known role in maintaining bone integrity, vitamin D may play a role in preventing autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis and some types of cancer such as breast, ovarian, colorectal and prostate, according to scientific research presented at the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition held in early June in Anaheim.

"Low vitamin D status is linked to a number of different conditions," said James C. Fleet, a professor in the department of foods and nutrition at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. "These include certain cancers, muscle weakness and types I and II diabetes — possibly even schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis."

Research shows a correlation between high vitamin D status and improved lower body muscle function in men and women over age 60, he added. Studies also show a decrease in colon cancer with an increase in vitamin D status.

"One theory is that vitamin D may indirectly inhibit pro-cancer pathways," Dr. Fleet said. "The question is finding the protective level, which remains under some debate."

Although the level remains controversial, 30 nanograms/milliliter of vitamin D is associated with fewer fractures and falls, said Karen Hansen, assistant professor of medicine with the rheumatology section at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

"Vitamin D deficiency causes osteoporosis by triggering decreased calcium absorption, secondary hyperparathyroidism, increased bone resorption and decreased bone mineral density," Dr. Hansen said.

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