Systematic fortification of foods with vitamin D could prevent more than 100,000 cancer-related deaths per year in Europe. This is the result of a model calculation by the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg.
Iodine in table salt is a common example of how a relative deficiency in a vital micronutrient can and should be compensated for by systematic fortification of food. Unlike in Germany, a few countries such as the USA, Canada and Finland have been enriching food with an extra portion of vitamin D for a long time. Why? Because a generous supply of this vitamin appears to reduce mortality from cancer.
“Vitamin D supplements can reduce cancer death rate by 13 percent”
According to a statement by the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg, meta-analyses of large studies have shown that taking vitamin D supplements reduces the mortality rate from cancer by around 13 percent. The systematic fortification of foods with vitamin D can increase vitamin D levels in the population in a similar way to the intake of vitamin D supplements.
Epidemiologists from the German Cancer Research Center have now used a model calculation to determine the possible influence of a targeted fortification of foods with vitamin D on cancer mortality in Europe. In doing so, they linked certain statistical findings and figures: information on the guidelines for dietary supplementation of vitamin D from 34 European countries; the number of cancer-related deaths; life expectancy; and the results of studies on the influence of vitamin D administration on cancer mortality rates.
Vitamin D fortification: 130,000 fewer cancer deaths in Europe
The researchers came to the conclusion that vitamin D enrichment already prevents around 27,000 cancer deaths per year in all European countries considered. “According to our model calculations, if all the countries we looked at were to fortify foods with adequate amounts of vitamin D, around 130,000 or around nine percent of all cancer deaths in Europe could be prevented,” says Hermann Brenner, who headed the study. “That corresponds to a gain of almost 1.2 million life years.”
Children are already getting vitamin D for rickets
The regular administration of vitamin D in children is now common practice worldwide. She has largely made the previously widespread rickets, the best-known vitamin D deficiency disease, disappear. However, a large part of the population, especially the elderly, still has low vitamin D levels, which are linked to an increased risk of numerous other diseases. “The current data on reducing cancer mortality show the immense potential that an improvement in vitamin D supply could have, but not only for cancer prevention,” explains Brenner. “We should make better use of that in the future.” The effect of (additional) vitamin D is, however, quite controversial in science. A large-scale meta-study from 2020, for example, found vitamin D supplementation recognize “no benefit” against widespread diseases such as cancer or diabetes.
Vitamin D: what is it?
Vitamin D is a group of fat-soluble vitamins that play an essential role in regulating blood calcium levels and in bone formation. Vitamin D deficiency is not only associated with bone and muscle diseases, but also with an increased susceptibility to infections and numerous other diseases.
How does the body get the vitamin D it needs?
The body can get vitamin D in two ways: from food (oily fish, vitamin D supplements); from our own production: with the help of the UV radiation of the sun, it can form the micronutrient in the skin itself. The DKFZ recommends spending about twelve minutes outdoors two to three times a week when the sun is shining. Face, hands and parts of arms and legs should be uncovered and without sunscreen for this period of time.