Vitamin D Deficiency Linked to Higher Risk of Lung Cancer, Decreased Pulmonary Function in Smokers
March 17, 2013 – A series of recently released studies involving the respiratory/pulmonary function of people who smoke cigarettes relative to their respective individual levels of vitamin D appears to indicate a direct relationship between vitamin D deficiency and reduced lung function in smokers, to go along with an increased risk of developing lung cancer in those who smoke and are also vitamin D deficient.
In one study of 626 male smokers conducted by researchers at Channing Laboratory, Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston¹ concluded that: “Vitamin D deficiency was associated with lower lung function and more rapid lung function decline” in people who had smoked for at least 20 years.
The conclusion as documented in the study’s Abstract went so far as to say that vitamin D sufficiency (normal and/or healthy levels of vitamin D): “… may have a protective effect against the damaging effects of smoking on lung function”.
In more recent (breaking) news, a different study (Afzal et al²) published March 15 in Clinical Chemistry, the Journal of AACC (American Association for Clinical Chemistry) concluded that decreased levels of vitamin D may predispose smokers to developing tobacco-related cancer. This study involved 10,000 individual smokers from Denmark whom researchers tracked for a whopping 28 years – in some cases all the way through the Danish Cancer Registry. Of the 1,081 who developed some form of tobacco-related cancer, the median vitamin D levels as measured in terms of ng/mL were on average 10% lower than in those who did not develop tobacco-related cancer of any kind.
In an unusual twist, the researchers went on to state what any mentally competent adult could have logically deduced from the data, but which all-too-often is implied but never actually stated in similar such studies – that, in the words of the scientists, “This study illustrates that simple vitamin D blood tests and supplements have the potential to improve smokers’ health.”‘
A 2009 clinical review³ written by Christopher R Gilbert, DO, Seth M Arum, MD, and Cecilia M Smith, DO of Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia and University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, Massachusetts, determined that the adverse health effects of low vitamin D levels on smokers was in no way limited to an increased risk of being diagnosed with cancer.
The review of relevant data present at that time found that people who smoke and have been diagnosed with one or more of the following conditions: “Chronic lung diseases such as asthma, cystic fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and interstitial pneumonia“ are more likely to also suffer from vitamin D deficiency.
While at the time the researchers hypothesized that it was the respiratory illnesses inducing the low levels of vitamin D, the growing consensus is that in fact the low vitamin D is a precursor to the development and eventual diagnosis of the aforementioned pulmonary (lung) diseases.
“A recent observational study notes a significant association between vitamin D deficiency and decreased pulmonary function tests in a large ambulatory population.”
The review concluded: “From the available evidence, it appears that patients with chronic lung disease are at risk for vitamin D deficiency.”
As scientists from all around the world are establishing links between insufficient levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 (25-OHD3) and what at times seems like every disease, health ailment and illness known to human civilization, a more complete picture has begun to form than existed in 2009. The overwhelming number of health maladies scientifically associated with insufficient vitamin D levels strongly suggests that the nutrient plays a vital role in immune function and disease prevention, with an inadequacy of the nutrient rendering one abnormally susceptible to developing any one (or more) of a myriad of diseases and illnesses, the full extent of which is not yet known and likely won’t be for some years to come.
Thus, the Vitamin D3 Blog advises readers to take certain statements from the 2009 review with a grain of salt given the research that has emerged in the years that followed and the collective understanding of the condition embraced by the scientific community in light of the new data. If a causal relationship does in fact exist between vitamin D insufficiency and development of disease (lung disease as it pertains to this article but disease in general in a broader context), it is in all likelihood the low vitamin D levels that serve as the precursor to increased susceptibility of developing a disease or illness, not that the presence of the disease(s) somehow leading to the 25-OHD3 levels dropping in those suffering from said ailments.
In the 2009 review, there was one additional anomaly that appears to be inconsistent with most of the published research on the topic, and that is that supplementation did not help in many cases. Without knowing the specific supplements used, where they were made, by whom, when and how, it would be impossible to know for sure if supplement quality (or more appropriately the lack thereof) was responsible for that reality. However, given the full scale of scientific research on the relationship between vitamin D levels and the risk of developing any one of several dozen illnesses, diseases and other health conditions; it appears likely that either those examples stand alone as exceptions, or there may have potentially been an issue with the bioavailability (ability for the human body to absorb and use) of the supplements used in the study.
The Comparative Guide to Nutrition Supplements IV Edition notes a substantial variance in terms of absorption rates of different brands of supplements, with three or four scoring head-and-shoulders above the other 150 or so supplement brands surveyed. Not every OTC, grocery store or pharmacy brand will be the equivalent of sunlight in a capsule. If one is going to rely on vitamin D supplements alone, that person would be well advised to reference the CGNS IV and decide for themselves which of the brands surveyed to use.
Brands like Douglas Laboratories, Biotech, USANA and Pamela Egan / Egan Wellness Clinic consistently scored significantly above virtually all other products by all other brands of the 100+ surveyed. This is not insignificant and it is not the result of random occurrence. Some supplement makers are better at making supplements than others, and consumers should think long and hard before entrusting their health to a brand whose corporate leadership’s top priority is cost-cutting measures.
The best way to obtain vitamin D is still direct exposure to sunlight. That’s right, sunbathing – positioning oneself in such a way that a maximum amount of sunlight makes extended contact with a maximum amount of skin (permissible by law of course) – is still the best way to obtain Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), the vastly superior of the two forms of Vitamin D approved for sale as a dietary supplement in the United States. Just be careful to sunbathe in moderation, being mindful of avoiding sunburn from prolonged exposure, even using sunscreen when necessary and appropriate.