Several past studies have suggested a link between vitamin D and the inhibition of prostate cancer, but a recent study published in Prostateoffers a possible answer as to why this takes place.According to James R. Lambert, Ph.D, investigator at the CU Cancer Center, while vitamin D inhibited prostate cancer cell growth, it couldn’t be proven to be an anti-cancer agent, so the purpose of this study was “to understand what genes Vitamin D is turning on or off in prostate cancer to offer new targets."

During the course of the study, taking place at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, Lambert and his colleagues focused on GDF-15, a gene proven to be upregulated by vitamin D. They used a sophisticated computer algorithm to analyze immunohistochemical (IHC) data, but couldn’t find a set pattern in cancerous or non-cancerous tissue with regard to GDF-15. What they were able to find was that GDF-15 was universally low in inflamed prostate tissue. Lambert noted that inflammation is thought to drive many cancers including colon and gastric as well as prostate, so if GDF-15 does indeed suppress it,  than vitamin D may have some application to minimizing cancer risk. GDF-15 was also shown to suppress inflammation by inhibiting another target, NFkB, which has been shown to promote inflammation and contribute to tumor growth.

While nothing can be concretely concluded from this study alone, Lambert was surprised with the results, particularly regarding NFkB. In a statement, he remarked, “from this starting point of Vitamin D in prostate cancer, we've come a long way toward understanding how we might use GDF-15 to target NFkB, which may have implications in cancer types far beyond prostate.”

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, January 2015(online 10/31/2014)