For the first time, researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center have found that weight loss, in combination with vitamin D supplementation, has a greater effect on reducing chronic inflammation than weight loss alone. Chronic inflammation is known to contribute to the development and progression of several diseases, including some cancers.
“We know from our previous studies that by losing weight, people can reduce their overall levels of inflammation, and there is some evidence suggesting that taking vitamin D supplements can have a similar effect if one has insufficient levels of the nutrient,” said lead and corresponding author Catherine Duggan, Ph.D., a principal staff scientist in the Public Health Sciences Division at Fred Hutch. However, it has not been known whether combining the two — weight loss and vitamin D — would further boost this effect. “It’s the first study to test whether adding vitamin D augments the considerable effect of weight loss on inflammatory biomarkers,” she said.
At the end of the study, all of the participants had reduced levels of inflammation, regardless of whether they took vitamin D, “which highlights the importance of weight loss in reducing inflammation,” Duggan said. However, those who saw the most significant decline in markers of inflammation were those who took vitamin D and lost 5 to 10 percent of their baseline weight.
Inflammation occurs when the body is exposed to pathogens, such as bacteria or viruses, which puts the immune system in overdrive until the “attack” ceases and the inflammatory response abates. Overweight or obese people, however, exist in a state of chronic inflammation. This sustained upregulation of the inflammatory response occurs because fat tissue continually produces cytokines, molecules that are usually only present for a short time, while the body is fighting infection, for example.
“It is thought that this state of chronic inflammation is pro-tumorigenic, that is, it encourages the growth of cancer cells,” she said. There is also some evidence that increased body mass “dilutes” vitamin D, possibly by sequestering it in fat tissue.
“Weight loss reduces inflammation, and thus represents another mechanism for reducing cancer risk,” Duggan said. “If ensuring that vitamin D levels are replete, or at an optimum level, can decrease inflammation over and above that of weight loss alone, that can be an important addition to the tools people can use to reduce their cancer risk.”
Duggan encourages women to speak to their health care providers about measuring their levels of vitamin D to determine the most appropriate dosage.
- C. Duggan, J. de Dieu Tapsoba, C. Mason, I. Imayama, L. Korde, C.-Y. Wang, A. McTiernan. Effect of Vitamin D3 Supplementation in Combination with Weight Loss on Inflammatory Biomarkers in Postmenopausal Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Cancer Prevention Research, 2015; DOI: 10.1158/1940-6207.CAPR-14-0449