Taking a Vitamin D Supplement May Lower Skin Cancer Risk, New Study Finds

Fewer cases of skin cancer were observed in those who supplement this essential nutrient.

Vitamin D (also called "calciferol," or, more affectionately, the "sunshine vitamin") is a fat-soluble vitamin that offers several health benefits, such as helping strengthen bones, boost mood, and bolster your immune health. Research even suggests that it may help reduce cancer cell growth, fight infections and lower inflammation. No wonder this essential nutrient has been having a moment over the past few years.

Unfortunately, despite the sunshine vitamin's ability to support good health, it's not found in many foods. Besides some fish, egg yolks, mushrooms and fortified cereals, you might be hard-pressed to get enough vitamin D from diet alone. And while your body can manufacture vitamin D from sunlight, you need direct exposure at peak times of day, which is difficult to acquire for many people who work indoors or live in northern climates. That's why many people turn to supplements to help ensure they're meeting their daily requirement of this vital nutrient.

A new study indicates that vitamin D supplements may provide another remarkable health benefit. According to a recent study published on December 28, 2022, in Melanoma Research, people who take vitamin D supplements regularly may have a lower risk of developing skin cancer. Specifically, the study found substantially fewer cases of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. "Taking vitamin D consistently can improve your skin's health and reduce your chances of getting melanoma," states Laura Purdy, MD, M.B.A., a board-certified family physician in Fort Benning, Georgia. "Researchers have found that high vitamin D absorption is linked to a reduced risk of melanoma progression."

These findings are significant since the number of new melanoma cases diagnosed annually has increased by 31% since 2012. Fortunately, you can take steps to reduce your risk since the study observed that even occasional vitamin D supplementation was associated with a lower risk of melanoma compared to non-users. Here's what you need to know.

a photo of Vitamin D supplements spilled out of a jar
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What the Study Found

Researchers from the University of Eastern Finland (UEF) and Kuopio University Hospital collaborated under the North Savo Skin Cancer Programme to arrive at these conclusions. First, they recruited 498 adult patients believed to have an increased risk of skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Expert dermatologists from UEF then examined the patients' medical history, background information, and skin condition to classify them into three skin cancer risk categories: high risk, moderate risk and low risk. Then, the patients were divided into three groups based on their intake of oral vitamin D supplements—regular users, occasional users and non-users. The study's primary finding was that there were fewer cases of melanoma and lower skin cancer risk among regular users of vitamin D compared to non-users.

Ilkka Harvima, MD, Ph.D., study author and Professor of Dermatology and Allergology at UEF, tells EatingWell, "There are fewer melanoma cases among regular users of vitamin D than among non-users. In addition, the skin cancer risk class (the subjects were classified as low, moderate or high) as assessed by experienced dermatologists was significantly lower among regular than non-users."

What It Means

The researchers observed that even occasional users of oral vitamin D supplements might have a lower risk for melanoma than non-users. That means that in an age when skin cancer rates are rising, supplements like vitamin D may help protect you against developing this potentially life-threatening disease. However, vitamin D won't protect your skin from other harmful aspects of prolonged sun exposure, such as aging, wrinkles and loss of elasticity. That's why it's critical to take further steps to protect your skin from the sun's harmful UV rays. "To lower your skin cancer risk, avoid too much exposure to UV radiation, whether from the sun or artificial sources," advises Trista Best, RD, a registered dietitian with Balance One Supplements. "Also, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, managing stress and maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce risk. It's important to examine your skin regularly and know what's normal for you so you can detect changes early and see a dermatologist if you have any concerns."

Additionally, keep in mind that most supplements are totally unregulated. Be sure to choose supplements that are third-party certified for ingredient accuracy so you know what you're getting.

The Bottom Line

A new study conducted in collaboration between the University of Eastern Finland and Kuopio University Hospital found that taking oral vitamin D supplements may reduce skin cancer risk and cases of melanoma. They found that even moderate vitamin D intake helped lower skin cancer risk. However, vitamin D supplements won't protect your skin from other forms of sun damage, so take the necessary precautions to protect your skin outdoors. Always consult your doctor or health care team before making any major lifestyle changes and consider talking to a dermatologist about other ways to lower your skin cancer risk.

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