Researchers looked at data from nearly 95,000 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study II, a long-term study focused on chronic disease prevention that collects information on nutrition and other health factors. Over a 24-year timespan, those who ate foods with higher amounts of vitamin D had a 50 percent lower risk of developing colorectal cancer, particularly when they were younger.
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“This suggests that vitamin D foods may be important for younger people as a way to prevent colorectal cancer, not just those who are older,” study co-author Kimmie Ng, M.D., director of the Young-Onset Colorectal Cancer Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute told Runner’s World. This includes foods like salmon, cheese, fortified dairy products, beef liver, and egg yolks.
She added that previous research has already showed strong connections to anti-cancer activity for the vitamin, but this link between lower risk for younger people—both men and women—is actually a big deal.
That’s because colorectal cancer rates have been declining in the past couple decades for older people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it’s believed that’s due to better screening. For instance, newer recommendations dropped the age when screening should start, advising people to begin at age 45.
However, the incidence in these cancers for people under 40 is surging, and experts note that these patients tend to be diagnosed at later stages when the cancers are harder to treat. It’s unknown why this is happening, but it’s a major problem, said Ng.
Although simply stocking up on cheese and salmon may not be enough to prevent it completely, the recent study does provide more evidence that it’s worth a shot.
“Over the past few years, vitamin D deficiency has been steadily increasing,” said Ng. “So, trying to address that through dietary choices is worth the effort.”
Other ways to lower your risk of colorectal cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, include getting regular exercise, not smoking, avoiding excess alcohol consumption, eating less processed meat, and, as previously mentioned, getting screened early.