Vitamin D: new uses and benefits
Vitamin D, also called calciferol, cholecalciferol (D3) or ergocalciferol (D2), is a fat-soluble vitamin found in eggs, fish liver oil, fatty fish and enriched milk products. The body only produces vitamin D naturally when exposed to sunlight.
Vitamin D performs several functions in the body: it stimulates the absorption of calcium in the small intestine and maintains appropriate blood levels of calcium and phosphate. Other properties that are attributed to vitamin D are the improvement of muscle strength and immune function and that helps to decrease inflammation.
Vitamin D against osteoporosis
The Vitamin D is needed for normal bone growth and protects against osteoporosis in adults, ensuring the correct calcification of the bone during the process of continuous remodeling throughout the person's life.
In adults with severe vitamin D deficiency prolonged, the balance between calcium, phosphorus and the hormone that controls them, parathormone from the parathyroid, may be affected, producing alterations in the formation of healthy bone.
The deficit of vitamin D in children produces an already practically eradicated disease, called rickets, that formerly arched the legs of those who suffered it. Vitamin D supplements to pregnant women and newborns avoid this pathology.
Traditionally, in patients with osteoporosis it is necessary to replace very low levels of vitamin D to avoid the imbalance of calcium and phosphorus in the body and prevent bone demineralization. Therefore, the decrease in calcium in the blood is an indication to check the vitamin D deficit and take supplements if necessary.
Vitamin D protects against cardiovascular risk
Vitamin D has also been studied as a possible protector of cardiovascular risk, a subject of singular importance in our time, in which the objective is to prevent arterial disease before ischemic events occur (infarcts, stroke, renal or retinal damage ... ). The results of the studies available to date rule out a significant effect in this area, so specific treatment with Vitamin D is not recommended as primary prevention of arterial disease.
Vitamin D protects against cancer
In the area of digestive diseases, vitamin D has yielded positive results in terms of its relationship with pathologies such as colorectal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease or diverticulitis, its low concentration in blood being related to the onset of these intestinal pathologies. Since a population study of around 520,000 European patients appeared in January 2010, it was shown that the risk of suffering colorectal cancer was lower in people with high levels of vitamin D in blood, many researchers speculate on the possible protective role of this hormone in the development of this type of cancer. In fact, in 2014 a similar study appeared that links high levels of vitamin D with a certain degree of protection to develop liver cancer. However, clinical trials that ultimately determine whether long-term treatment prevents these digestive pathologies are not yet developed.
The meta-analyzes, studies that bring together patients from several previously published studies, that try to shed light on the uncertainty about the protective effect of vitamin D in tumor processes, only conclude that there is no evidence to use supplements of this hormone to prevent any type of cancer, although they suggest that more studies are needed to confirm it.
On the other hand, analyzing animals with prostate cancer with metastasis, it is concluded that there is a certain effect of vitamin D in the progression of this disease in the bones. However, studies in humans have not been able to confirm that vitamin D protects in the evolution of this type of cancer so nowadays it is not recommended to maintain vitamin D supplements in these patients.
Dr. Ismael Said Criado. Internal Medicine Service of the Hospital La Milagrosa in Madrid.