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How are micronutrient deficiencies linked to chronic diseases like cancer?

In a study, vitamin D deficiency was estimated to account for 29 percent of cancer mortality in men. It was strongly associated with colon, breast, pancreatic and prostate cancer, as well as a variety of other ailments, including heart disease. Scientists suspect that the vitamin inhibits cancer-cell growth and activates the immune system so it can fight infections. Magnesium and vitamin D deficiencies are only two of the many micronutrient deficiencies associated with increased cancer risk. But it’s very important to remember that when two things are associated (such as micronutrient deficiency and cancer, for example), it just means that they are often found together; it does not necessarily mean that one thing causes the other. Even when micronutrient deficiency is found to precede the onset of disease, it still does not prove that the deficiency caused the disease.

A clue to the link between micronutrient deficiencies and cancer comes from lab experiments in which researchers have observed that cells with an insufficient supply of some micronutrients continue to make energy and carry out normal “housekeeping” functions, but they can’t protect their genetic material (DNA), which leaves them vulnerable to damage -- the type of damage that accumulates over time and causes these cells to age faster than cells that receive a normal supply of micronutrients. Cancers develop over many years, and the damage that builds up in DNA (which makes up chromosomes) is believed to play a causal role. Chromosome breakdown also appears to accompany aging. It’s as though, when the availability of a micronutrient is limited, cells may have to forego some nonessential functions (such as keeping damage from slowly building up in DNA) in order to carry out more crucial duties (such as using oxygen to make energy). This theoretical analysis remains to be proven, but mounting evidence points in this direction.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.