Vitamin D may boost immune response to colorectal cancer risk

By Nathan Gray contact

- Last updated on GMT

Colocectal cancer risk linked to vitamin D immune response

Related tags: Colorectal cancer, Immune system, Cancer

Vitamin D may help to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer by priming the immune system to respond against tumour cells, according to new data.

The research, published in the journal Gut​, investigated whether there is an inverse association between vitamin D status and cancers with high-level immune response than those with low-level immune response using colorectal cancer risk as a model.

Led by researchers from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard Medical School, the team noted that previous evidence has suggested protective effects of vitamin D and anti-tumour immunity on colorectal cancer risk – adding that it is also known that immune cells in some tumour environments can convert 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] to bioactive 1α,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3, which then primes an immune response. 

"Laboratory research suggests that vitamin D boosts immune system function by activating T cells that recognise and attack cancer cells,”​ explained senior author Dr Shuji Ogino.

“In this study, we wanted to determine if these two phenomena are related: Does vitamin D's role in the immune system account for the lower rates of colorectal cancer in people with high circulating levels of the vitamin?"​ 

Using data from the Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study the team performed a nested case–control study, which found that people with high levels of vitamin D in their bloodstream have a lower overall risk of developing colorectal cancer. 

“High plasma 25(OH)D level is associated with lower risk of colorectal cancer with intense immune reaction, supporting a role of vitamin D in cancer immunoprevention through tumour–host interaction,”​ reported Ogino and his colleagues -  adding that their research is the first time that a link between vitamin D and the immune response to cancer has been shown in a large human population.

Study details

The team used data from 170,000 participants in the Nurses' Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study, to compare carefully selected groups of 318 colorectal cancer patients and 624 individuals who were free of cancer in a nested case–control study.

All 942 participants had blood samples drawn in the 1990s, before any developed cancer. The authors then tested these samples for 25(OH)D) status - finding that those with high amounts of 25(OH)D had a lower-than-average risk of developing colorectal tumours that were enriched with immune system cells.

"This is the first study to show evidence of the effect of vitamin D on anti-cancer immune function in actual patients, and vindicates basic laboratory discoveries that vitamin D can interact with the immune system to raise the body's defences against cancer,"​ said Ogino.

"In the future, we may be able to predict how increasing an individual's vitamin D intake and immune function can reduce his or her risk of colorectal cancer,” ​he said.

Source: Gut
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1136/gutjnl-2014-308852
“Plasma 25-hydroxyvitamin D and colorectal cancer risk according to tumour immunity status”
Authors: Mingyang Song, Reiko Nishihara, et al

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