Cancer & Vitamin D: Benefits, Risks & Dosage

May 27, 2023

In this video, Wellkasa Founder Sumit Mehrotra, talks to Donald Abrams, MD, Integrative Oncologist, over an afternoon chat to discuss the role of Vitamin D for people with cancer. Here is a summary of their conversation. See this informative 15-minute video below.

What is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is an essential vitamin that helps regulate calcium and phosphorus in the body. It also plays a role in maintaining proper bone structure, supports immune health, cardiovascular health and has a role in depression, pain, and cancer (1).  Because of its multiple roles contributing to many processes in the body, Vitamin D is considered as a hormone or a prohormone.

There are different forms of vitamin D, including ergocalciferol (vitamin D2) and cholecalciferol (vitamin D3). Vitamin D is found in fish, eggs, and fortified milk and also produced by our body when our skin is exposed to sunlight.

Role of Vitamin D for People with Cancer

According to Dr. Abrams, vitamin D deficiency has been linked to breast, prostate, colon, and pancreatic cancers. Many cancer patients are at risk to get osteopenia, osteoporosis, or metastases to the bone. Strong bones need calcium, and vitamin D enables effective absorption of calcium in our bodies.

However, vitamin D deficiency is rampant and estimated to impact 1 billion people worldwide across all ethnicities and age groups (2). People over 50 years old, people who are overweight, and people with higher levels of skin pigmentation are at increased risk of vitamin D deficiency. Roughly 80-90% of the cancer patients seen by Dr. Abrams, not on supplementation, have significantly lower levels of vitamin D compared to his optimal target.

What is the optimal level of Vitamin D for a Cancer Patient?

Dr. Abrams uses 25 hydroxy-vitamin D, the serum 25 (OH)D test, to track vitamin D levels in his cancer patients. Frequently, patients register 25(OH)D levels in 20 - 25 ng/mL after their first test. Although this is considered to be within the normal range, he targets 40-50 ng/mL for his patients with lighter skin pigmentation and 30-40 ng/mL for patients with darker skin. For patients who test below 20 ng/mL, Dr. Abrams starts them on 50,000 IU / week of vitamin D2 in conjunction with 1000-5000 IU of vitamin D3 daily for 8 weeks. With this dosage, he typically sees the serum 25 (OH)D levels climb into his target range. After 8 weeks, patients continue to supplement at 1000-2000 IU daily.

How to supplement Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is fat soluble and is best absorbed in our body in the form of a  gel bead or a liquid. Dr. Abrams does not prefer vitamin D supplementation as a multivitamin or complexed with calcium as a white powder tablet or capsule as it is less absorbable. You can find high quality curated Vitamin D supplements at Wellkasa.

Risks of Vitamin D

According to Dr. Abrams, there is a “U-shaped curve” of mortality and vitamin D levels. Too low and too high levels of vitamin D are both linked to adverse outcomes.  The risk of too much vitamin D is getting calcium deposited in blood vessels, particularly coronary arteries and the aorta. Therefore, he doesn’t consider vitamin D to be completely benign and is skeptical of some of other medical professionals who try to target 70+ ng/mL of serum 25(OH)D in their patients.

See the entire chat in the video below.