Lower levels of vitamin D in the body have been linked to an increased risk of aggressive prostate cancer. Now a small study has found that those levels can serve as an important indicator of how well men who undergo prostate surgery will fare.
For their study, the researchers analyzed the vitamin D levels of 190 men in the Chicago area, average age 64, who underwent a radical prostatectomy between 2009 and 2014. A vitamin D level of 20 ng/mL or more is adequate for bone health, according to the Institute of Medicine.
Eighty-seven men had aggressive prostate cancer, which was defined as having a Gleason score of 7 to 10 or disease extending beyond the prostate. The men also had their vitamin D level measured before surgery, which at an average of 22.7 ng/mL was 16 percent lower than men with slower-growing tumors.
The study results were published April 2016 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. While the findings are intriguing, they do not prove that vitamin D deficiency causes aggressive prostate cancer—only that the two are associated.
Still, the results are important enough to spur further studies examining the possible connection between low levels of vitamin D and aggressive prostate cancer.
The take-home message is that vitamin D might be important for prostate health and is known to be important for many other aspects of health and well-being. Therefore, it’s very important to know your vitamin D status.
Our medical advisers say to consider taking a supplement if your level of vitamin D is below normal. The skin makes vitamin D in response to sunlight. But older adults are especially likely to have insufficient levels of vitamin D, partly because they spend less time outdoors, but also because aging skin cannot synthesize vitamin D as efficiently and aging kidneys are less able to convert the vitamin to its active hormone form.
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is 600 international units (IU) a day (from food and supplements) through age 70, and 800 IU for those over 70.
We recommend 800 to 1,000 IU of supplemental vitamin D a day for most people, though your health care provider may advise a higher dose if your blood level is very low or if you have osteoporosis, inflammatory bowel disease, or certain other disorders.
Learn more about prostate cancer and supplements.
David Levine (@dlloydlevine) is co-chairman of Science Writers in New York and a member the National Association of Science Writers and the Association of Health Care Journalists. He writes for The New York Times, Reuters Health, Scientific American Mind, Nature Medicine, the Los Angeles Times, Nautilus, and the Smithsonian.