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Low Vitamin D Linked to Risk of Death and Cancer Prognoses

Jun 18, 2014 05:05 PM EDT

Vitamin D levels have been found directly tied to health in countless studies in the past. Now, researchers have linked vitamin D deficiency to a higher risk of death in general, simultaneously finding that the vitamin may influence cancer prognosis, according to a recent study.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, details how the sunshine vitamin may be directly influencing the overarching health of the human body, impacting "all-cause mortality" in the process.

Vitamin D helps maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus, and also helps to strengthen the immune system and aid cell communication, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Research has shown that having dangerously low levels of the essential vitamin can lead to subtle brain and organ damage and even a higher risk of premature death.

However, past research has also shown that elevated levels can do some remarkable things, including improve breast and pancreatic cancer survival rates.

Now, experts are attempting to bring all these discoveries together under one theoretical roof.

Researchers analyzed data from eight population-based studies involving a total of more than 26,000 Europeans and Americans between the ages of 50 and 79. These subjects were followed for 16 years, providing data on general well-being and vitamin levels.

Within that time, 6,695 deaths occurred. Of that group, 2,624 died of cardiovascular diseases (CVD) and 2,227 died from cancer.

The researchers found a very clear pattern among the deaths, focusing around the CVD victims in particular. Individuals who had constantly lower vitamin D levels - often unknowingly suffering from vitamin D deficiency - proved far more likely to die, compared to the participants who maintained healthy levels.

"Despite levels of 25(OH)D strongly varying with country, sex, and season, the association between 25(OH)D level and all-cause and cause-specific mortality was remarkably consistent," authors of the study wrote.

Surprisingly, the researchers also found a similar association among cancer patients, regardless of the type of cancer they had. Still, they are quick to point out that this very clear association could only be seen among patients with a family history of cancer. This indicates that vitamin D may be important to cancer prognoses in cases involving those who are genetically vulnerable.

The study was published in the British Medical Journal on June 17.

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