Vitamin D and sunlight: strategies for cancer prevention and other health benefits

Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2008 Sep;3(5):1548-54. doi: 10.2215/CJN.01350308. Epub 2008 Jun 11.


Vitamin D deficiency is a worldwide health problem. The major source of vitamin D for most humans is sensible sun exposure. Factors that influence cutaneous vitamin D production include sunscreen use, skin pigmentation, time of day, season of the year, latitude, and aging. Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] is the measure for vitamin D status. A total of 100 IU of vitamin D raises blood level of 25(OH)D by 1 ng/ml. Thus, children and adults who do not receive adequate vitamin D from sun exposure need at least 1000 IU/d vitamin D. Lack of sun exposure and vitamin D deficiency have been linked to many serious chronic diseases, including autoimmune diseases, infectious diseases, cardiovascular disease, and deadly cancers. It is estimated that there is a 30 to 50% reduction in risk for developing colorectal, breast, and prostate cancer by either increasing vitamin D intake to least 1000 IU/d vitamin D or increasing sun exposure to raise blood levels of 25(OH)D >30 ng/ml. Most tissues in the body have a vitamin D receptor. The active form of vitamin D, 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D, is made in many different tissues, including colon, prostate, and breast. It is believed that the local production of 1,25(OH)(2)D may be responsible for the anticancer benefit of vitamin D. Recent studies suggested that women who are vitamin D deficient have a 253% increased risk for developing colorectal cancer, and women who ingested 1500 mg/d calcium and 1100 IU/d vitamin D(3) for 4 yr reduced risk for developing cancer by >60%.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Calcitriol / therapeutic use
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Disease Progression
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / etiology
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Nutrition Policy
  • Receptors, Calcitriol / metabolism
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Skin / metabolism*
  • Skin / radiation effects
  • Sunlight*
  • Vitamin D / analogs & derivatives
  • Vitamin D / metabolism
  • Vitamin D / therapeutic use*
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / complications
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / drug therapy*
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / metabolism


  • Anticarcinogenic Agents
  • Receptors, Calcitriol
  • Vitamin D
  • Calcitriol