Getting enough vitamin D may be a matter of life or death, according to a new study that suggests it plays an important role in surviving lung cancer. Researchers found that the lung cancer patients with high intake who had surgery during the summer were more than twice as likely to be alive five years later than those with low levels who had operations in winter. It is one of several recent studies to show the benefits of the “sunshine vitamin” against cancer.

Vitamin D is made by the skin from sunlight. Getting enough from diet alone is difficult, as fish and fortified milk are the main sources. Many scientists now think the recommended daily level of 400 international units is too low.

The study, led by Harvard University’s Dr David Christiani, looked at 456 consecutive patients with early-stage lung cancer. Patients were interviewed about diet, supplements and timing of their cancer surgery. The researchers found that those who had high vitamin D levels and summer operations fared the best: five-year survival was 72% versus 29% for those who had the lowest levels of the nutrient and winter surgery.

This does not mean that people should delay or try to time operations, but taking vitamin D supplements around the time of surgery might be a good idea, said Wei Zhou, a Harvard researcher who presented the study results.

Newsday, Apr 20, 2005