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Vitamin D: Bone Protector and More

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It’s well known that vitamin D plays a vital role in bone health. But did you know that vitamin D may also help prevent diseases, including cancer?

Why the body needs vitamin D

Vitamin D contributes to the absorption of calcium to build solid bones. Severe vitamin D deficiency in children leads to rickets, a disease responsible for unsightly bow legs caused by the bones being too weak to support the weight of the body. In adults, vitamin D deficiency causes osteomalacia. An inadequate intake of vitamin D over the long term also increases the risks of osteoporosis.1

Vitamin D is also essential for proper muscle function, increasing their strength and thereby reducing the risk of falls and fractures, an important consideration for the elderly.2

New and promising roles

Despite research still not being conclusive, new data seems to establish a link between vitamin D and the prevention of diseases other than bone diseases. Indeed, studies suggest that a high level of vitamin D in the blood may prevent premature aging of the cells and reduce the risk of several types of cancer (e.g. breast and colon),3-5 of autoimmune diseases (e.g. multiple sclerosis6 and rheumatoid arthritis),7 of infectious diseases (e.g. influenza8 and tuberculosis), and of cardiovascular diseases9 (including hypertension, a risk factor of cardiovascular diseases).

Sources

1. Vieth R. The role of vitamin D in the prevention of osteoporosis. Ann Med 2005;37:278–285.

2. Bischoff HA et al. Effects of vitamin D and calcium supplementation on falls: a randomized controlled trial. J Bone Miner Res 2003;18:343–351.

3. Shin MH et al. Intake of dairy products, calcium and vitamin D and risk of breast cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst 2002;94:1301–1311.

4. Janowsky E et al. Association between low levels of 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D and breast cancer risk. Public Health Nutr 1999;2:283–291.

5. McCullough ML et al. Calcium, vitamin D, dairy products, and risk of colorectal cancer in the Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort (United States). Cancer Causes Control 2003;14:1–12.

6. Munger KL et al. Vitamin D intake and incidence of multiple sclerosis. Neurology 2004;62:60–65.

7. Merlino LA et al. Vitamin D intake is inversely associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis Rheum 2004;50:72–77.

8. Sabetta JR et al. Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin d and the incidence of acute viral respiratory tract infections in healthy adults. PLoS One 2010 Jun 14;5(6):e11088

9. Holick MF. Vitamin D: important for prevention of osteoporosis, cardiovascular heart disease, type 1 diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and some cancers. South Med J 2005 Oct;98(10):1024-1027.

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