By: Talking Nutrition Editors
Cancer is the second biggest cause of death in older adults.1,2 In addition to advancing age, cancer development appears to be promoted by a number of lifestyle factors, including an unhealthy diet and low physical activity, which can be major challenges in the elderly.3 The benefits of nutrition and exercise for healthy aging are well-known, i. Research in the field demonstrates the potential of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids specifically in healthy aging. Vitamin D supplementation has been shown to limit the growth of cancer cells,4-14 whereas omega-3 fatty acids may inhibit carcinogenesis (the transformation of normal cells into cancer cells).15 Additionally, exercise can help to improve immune function and decrease inflammation; two factors which may lower the risk of cancer development.16-18
The broad aim of the DO-HEALTH study is to prolong healthy life expectancy in European seniors. As part of this, the trial explored the benefits of nutrition and exercise interventions on cancer risk, to ultimately help inform public health initiatives.19 Taking place between 2012 and 2017 across five countries in Europe, the DO-HEALTH study included 2,157 generally healthy and active older adults aged 70 years or older – i.e., an age where cancer risk is higher. Participants were divided into eight groups, where they were provided with either a placebo, one of the three interventions – 2,000 IU/day vitamin D3, 1g/day omega-3 or a simple home exercise program (SHEP) – or different combinations of the three.
The secondary analysis found that the triple combination of vitamin D3, omega-3 and exercise had cumulative benefits on the risk of invasive cancer. Notably, the authors reached the conclusion that there was a cancer risk reduction when all three interventions were combined. Although further research is required to confirm these findings, this discovery is set to shape the future of cancer prevention strategies and could have significant positive implications for healthy aging and burdens on global healthcare services.
In addition, emerging science shows that specific nutrients can support patients undergoing cancer therapy too. Many patients with cancer are at high risk for malnutrition both from the disease itself and its treatment – which can have an adverse impact on the health and survival of individuals, as well as the efficacy of oncology treatment, if not addressed properly.
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) omega-3 fatty acids are emerging as a promising nutritional support to cancer treatment, where they have the potential to improve the effectiveness of immunotherapy and anti-inflammatory cancer drugs.20,21 Additional research published this year also shows that vitamin B5 has potential to stimulate anti-cancer immunosurveillance – a mechanism of the immune system that helps to recognize and destroy cancer cells – supporting anticancer therapy.22 Whereas vitamin E is shown to significantly improve the survival of patients undergoing immune checkpoint therapy (ICT).23 In mice models, vitamin E increased the antitumor efficacy of ICT immunotherapy. This highlights the important role nutrients can play at different stages in cancer support.
DSM is passionate about raising the standards of care and supporting the health and independence of the elderly with evidence-based nutritional products that put the individual first. As a science-based company, we remain at the pulse of emerging research and patient insights to inform our nutrition solutions – including those for optimized nutrition in cancer care. When you partner with us, you get access to the broadest ingredient offering in the industry, customized solutions and expert services, so you can navigate the health and nutrition market with ease. Connect with one of our experts to discover how we can support the development of medical nutrition products to address the dietary needs of patients with cancer, from concept to patient.