Studies of the geographic variation of colon and rectal (colorectal) cancer mortality rates in the U.S. have long indicated that they are primariliy linked to solar ultraviolet-B (UVB) radiation: the more UVB in summer, the lower the mortality rate.
The hypothesis to explain this result is that UVB radiation produces vitamin D in the skin, and vitamin D acts to reduce the risk of colorectal and over a dozen other types of cancer. One major study found that intake of 150 IU/day of vitamin D was associated with a reduction by half in incidence of colon cancer, a result that was statistically significant. However, some studies that have investigated the link between dietary sources of vitamin D and colorectal cancer have found a smaller degree of risk reduction comparing the highest versus lowest levels of dietary vitamin D.
In a review of the literature published in the current issue of Nutrition and Cancer, Drs. William Grant and Cedric Garland report that the reason for the sometimes weak link between dietary sources of vitamin D and colorectal cancer incidence or mortality rates is that dietary sources often cannot supply enough vitamin D to be effective in quantities ordinarily consumed. In most such studies, the highest quartile or quintile of those studied consumed over 150-370 I.U./day from dietary sources. That was sufficient in some cases to provide a 10-50% reduction in colorectal cancer risk, but not always at a statistically significant level. However, studies that considered vitamin D intake from both diet and supplements for which the highest levels were over 500 I.U./day found 30-60% risk reduction for the highest versus lowest levels, and the results were uniformly tatistically significant.
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