As humans age, the risk for developing cancer increases.1 Studies have shown that the risk of developing cancer can also increase with low activity and an unhealthy diet.2 A new collaborative study, from experts in Switzerland, the United States, France, Portugal, Germany, Australia, and the U.K., found that cancer risk can be reduced in adults aged 70+ with omega-3 and vitamin D3 supplementation and a simple home exercise plan.1
Their findings, published in Frontiers in Aging, suggest that when the use of vitamin D3, omega-3, and physical activity are combined, the likelihood of developing cancer can decrease by as much as 61%.
Alone, Vitamin D3, Omega-3, and exercise can each reduce cancer risk
In both Europe and the United States, cancer is the second most common cause of death in older adults.3,4 Many anti-cancer campaigns address smoking cessation and cancer screening efforts.1 However, addressing low physical activity and unhealthy diets may help reduce cancer risk further.
Vitamin D3, a vitamin humans produce using sunlight, has been found to reduce the risk of developing cancer. It is obtained by eating foods such as fish, fortified orange juice, and cereals. Studies have identified that vitamin D prevents the growth and development of cancerous cells.5,6
Omega-3, a fat found in seafood, has been shown to prevent carcinogenesis, a process where healthy cells become cancerous.7 Additionally, exercise may also reduce cancer risk; potentially by strengthening immune function.8
However, the combination of these three cancer-reducing strategies has not been widely explored until now.
Healthy seniors were treated with vitamin D, omega-3, and/or exercise
Participants for the study were recruited from the DO-HEALTH trial, a clinical trial run from December 2012 to 2017. The trial monitored relatively healthy individuals aged 70 or older across Germany, Switzerland, France, Austria, and Portugal.1 2,157 people were included, with an average age of 74.9 years. None of the participants had any major health events within the five years leading up to study enrollment.
Individuals were treated with 2000IU per days of vitamin D3, 1g per day of omega-3, and/or a simple home exercise program (SHEP) consisting of strength-based exercises, such as doing steps.
Various combinations, such as SHEP plus vitamin D3, vitamin D3 plus omega-3, or only omega-3, were used. Some control groups were given placebo vitamin D3 supplements, while others stayed on their own exercise plans.
Researchers followed up with participants every three months to monitor cancer development.
The combination of omega-3, vitamin D3, and exercise most significantly reduced cancer risk
Over the study period, 81 individuals developed verifiable invasive cancer; the risk of developing cancer varied for each treatment group.
For those who received only one of either vitamin D3, omega-3, or SHEP, their risk for developing invasive cancer was reduced by 24%, 30%, and 26%, respectively.
For those who received a combination treatment of either vitamin D3 plus SHEP, vitamin D3 plus omega-3, or SHEP plus omega-3, the risk for developing cancer showed a more promising reduction than if any one treatment was used in isolation; cancer risk decreased by 44%, 47%, and 48%, respectively.
The trio combination of omega-3, vitamin D3, and SHEP boasted the greatest reduction in invasive cancer risk, at 61%. Thus, the trio combination proved most effective at reducing cancer risk than any single or duo combination treatments.
A larger, longer trial is needed
The authors recognize that the size of the study group and the length of the study period may limit the scope of the study’s findings. They note, “In general, many years may be needed to see the effects of decreasing exposures involved in the early stages of carcinogenesis”.1 Thus, using a larger sample size and following participants for an extended period of time may help further support these findings.
At this stage however, the results suggest that: following a healthy lifestyle with exercise, omega-3s, and vitamin D3 may help reduce cancer risk in seniors. As Dr Heike Bischoff-Ferrari, co-author of the study, stated, “Our results, although based on multiple comparisons and requiring replication, may prove to be beneficial for reducing the burden of cancer.” 9
- Bischoff-Ferrari, H.A. et al. (2022). Combined Vitamin D, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, and a Simple Home Exercise Program May Reduce Cancer Risk Among Active Adults Aged 70 and Older: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Frontiers in Aging. Doi: 10.3389/fragi.2022.852643.
- López-Otín et al. (2013). The Hallmarks of Aging. Cell; 153(6): 1194–1217. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2013.05.039.
- White, M. C. et al. (2014). Age and Cancer Risk. American Journal of Preventative Medicine; 46(3): S7–S15. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2013.10.029.
- Laconi, E. et al. (2020). Cancer as a Disease of Old Age: Changing Mutational and Microenvironmental Landscapes. British Journal of Cancer; 122: 943–952. doi:10.1038/s41416-019-0721-1.
- James, S.Y. et al. (1996). Effects of 1,25 dihydroxyvitamin D3 and its analogues on induction of apoptosis in breast cancer cells. The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology; 58(4): 395-401. Doi: 10.1016/0960-0760(96)00048-9.
- Diaz, G.D. et al. (2000). Apoptosis is induced by the active metabolite of vitamin D3 and its analogue EB1089 in colorectal adenoma and carcinoma cells: possible implications for prevention and therapy. Cancer Research; 60(8): 2304-2312.
- Larsson, S.C. et al. (2004). Dietary long-chain n-3 fatty acids for the prevention of cancer: a review of potential mechanisms. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; 79(6): 935-945. Doi: 10.1093/ajcn/79.6.935.
- McTiernan, A. (2008). Mechanisms linking physical activity with cancer. Nature Reviews Cancer; 8: 205-211.
- Burgelman, S. (2022). A combination of three simple treatments may reduce invasive cancer risk by 61% among adults aged 70+. EurekAlert! Accessed Apr. 27, 2022. Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/950364.
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