Newswise — (New York, NY – June 30, 2014) A vitamin D boost may prevent early death from heart disease and cancer, according to a large scale study by Mount Sinai and a consortium of international collaborators, published online in the June issue of BMJ. Analysis of pooled data by Paolo Boffetta, MD, Director of the Institute for Translational Epidemiology and Associate Director for Population Sciences of the Tisch Cancer Institute at Mount Sinai, and collaborators showed a strong association between low vitamin D levels and risk of death in general death from cardiovascular diseases, death in from cancer, at least in older people with a history of cancer.

Past studies have linked Vitamin D to protection against many health problems, including hypertension, diabetes and bone loss. Could its protective role be even greater? “Going into our study, the effect of vitamin D supplementation on risk of death was not clear,” said Dr. Boffetta. “Our analysis confirms the protective nature of this substance especially in elderly patients.”

The skin makes Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, and we also take it in through dietary sources and supplements. Deficiency is most common in the elderly, who get less sun. Limited understanding of just how much Vitamin D is needed to achieve protection has meant a lack of consistent recommendations on supplementation, and the verdict is still out. The current study results argue that those deficient in Vitamin D are more likely to die before those who are not, says Dr. Boffetta.

Researchers analyzed data from eight European and American studies that included 26,018 men and women aged 50-79 years. Follow-up analysis showed that 6,695 study participants died during the studies, including 2,624 from cardiovascular diseases and 2,227 from cancer. Comparison of the lowest and the highest levels of Vitamin D in the deceased showed those with the lowest concentrations had a pooled risk ratio of 1.57, or nearly double the risk of overall death as those with high concentrations. Risk ratios for cardiovascular and cancer deaths in those with cancer history were similar. Despite varying levels of Vitamin D between country, sex and season of blood draw, the association between low levels of vitamin D and death was consistent.

“Vitamin D’s protective effect is clear,” says Dr. Boffetta. “If our results are confirmed in additional studies, it could lead to recommendations for greater Vitamin D supplementation in foods, and to a better understanding of its role in cancer prognosis.”

This study was conducted in partnership with researchers from the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg and the Consortium on Health and Aging: Network of Cohorts in Europe and the United States (CHANCES), which is supported by the FP7 Framework Programme of DG-Research of the European Commission and coordinated by the Hellenic Health Foundation, where Dr. Boffetta holds an adjunct appointment.

About the Mount Sinai Health SystemThe Mount Sinai Health System is an integrated health system committed to providing distinguished care, conducting transformative research, and advancing biomedical education. Structured around seven member hospital campuses and a single medical school, the Health System has an extensive ambulatory network and a range of inpatient and outpatient services—from community‐based facilities to tertiary and quaternary care. The System includes approximately 6,600 primary and specialty care physicians, 12‐minority‐owned free‐standing ambulatory surgery centers, over 45 ambulatory practices throughout the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, and Long Island, as well as 31 affiliated community health centers. Physicians are affiliated with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, which is ranked among the top 20 medical schools both in National Institutes of Health funding and by U.S. News & World Report.

For more information, visit, or find Mount Sinai on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.