Confused About Vitamin D? Why You Shouldn’t Be
As you may be aware, the Institute of Medicine recently released a report that increased the Daily Recommended Intake for vitamin D from 400 IU per day to a modest 600 IU per day, despite the fact that many members of the medical community now believe that much higher doses of vitamin D may be needed to ensure optimal health and longevity. The publication of the report stirred up controversy and confusion among consumers, due largely in part to alarmist, and in many cases, misleading headlines in the media.
Vitamin D deficiency has been linked in hundreds of scientific studies to health problems including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, cognitive decline, depression, chronic pain and low immunity, to name just a few. Recent studies have also suggested that the number of Americans who are deficient in this essential nutrient is nearing epidemic proportions. In fact, the research has been so compelling, that it has ignited a vitamin D advocacy movement, led by such organizations as the Vitamin D Council and GrassrootsHealth, aimed at raising awareness of the growing prevalence of vitamin D deficiency and the risks it poses to health.
The movement gained momentum recently when Harvard Medical School researchers, writing in the widely-read Harvard Health Letter, acknowledged that the current recommendations (400 IU/day) were too low to reverse the increase in symptoms of faltering health and death related to vitamin D deficiency.
In July, a group of international experts called for a change to the global policy on the sunshine vitamin. Writing in Experimental Biology and Medicine, they said that “responsible medicine demands that worldwide vitamin D nutritional guidelines reflect current scientific knowledge about vitamin D’s spectrum of activities.” They said that increasing the amount recommended daily of vitamin D to 2,000 IU per day would reduce the frequency of certain diseases, cut medical costs and increase longevity.
So in light of this, how did the IOM’s Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) conclude that most Americans have sufficient levels of vitamin D and should not be concerned with increasing their levels? The IOM’s recently-released report, which sets the new recommendations for vitamin D at a mere 600 IU per day, contradicts the volumes of research that suggest that much higher doses may be needed to ensure optimal health for the majority of Americans. The report states that, while there is plenty of evidence that vitamin D plays an important role in maintaining bone health, current evidence does not support the other “supposed” benefits of vitamin D.
Andrew Shao, Senior Vice President of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs for the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), responded to the release of the IOM report saying that “while an increase in the recommendations for vitamin D will benefit the public overall, such a conservative increase for the nutrient lags behind the mountain of research demonstrating a need for vitamin D intake at levels possibly as high as 2,000 IU/day for adults.”
He also said that CRN recognizes that making broad-based recommendations for an entire population is difficult and encourages consumers to work with a health care professional to get determine their true vitamin D needs.
As Dr. Kevin Passero points out, the new recommendations for vitamin D are based on research that concerns bone health. They do not take into account the emerging research regarding vitamin D’s many other roles in maintaining health. He says that “until we have more clear-cut guidelines, the best way to approach vitamin D supplementation is to work with your health care provider to have appropriate testing done and to receive individualized recommendations and follow up.”
Many of the nation’s leading experts on vitamin D have reacted to the IOM’s new recommendations with outrage. Here is some of what they had to say:
“Disturbingly, this FNB committee focused on bone health, just like they did 14 years ago. They ignored the thousands of studies from the last ten years that showed higher doses of vitamin D helps: heart health, brain health, breast health, prostate health, pancreatic health, muscle health, nerve health, eye health, immune health, colon health, liver health, mood health, skin health, and especially fetal health…
…If you want to optimize your vitamin D levels — not just optimize the bone effect — supplementing is crucial. But it is almost impossible to significantly raise your vitamin D levels when supplementing at only 600 IU/day (15 micrograms).”
Dr. William Grant of the Sunlight, Nutrition and Health Research Center (SUNARC) explains in a statement appearing on the Vitamin D Council’s website that, on top of the fact that many valid studies were excluded from the committee’s evaluation, many of the studies included used too little vitamin D (400 IU/day) to yield significant effects.
“The health benefits of vitamin D extend to at least 100 types of disease, with the strongest evidence for many types of cancer (breast, colon, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, and rectal), cardiovascular disease, diabetes types 1 and 2, respiratory infections such as type A influenza and pneumonia, other infections such as sepsis, and autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis…
…Amazingly, a government-sponsored panel could not bring itself to recommend the 1000–2000 IU/day, or more, of vitamin D required by most people to raise the amount of vitamin D in their blood to healthy levels, in spite of all the past decades’ research reporting beneficial effects of receiving more than 1,000 IU per day of vitamin D.”
Carole A. Baggerly, Director of GrassrootsHealth, wrote to their readers about the release of the report:
“Their recommendations are below our expectations, specifically, 600 IU/day with an upper limit of 4000 IU/day. The statement was that the only disease they could truly comment on was that of bone health. It should be noted that they were very limited in the types of evidence they considered. The focus was on ‘randomized clinical trials’ and they set aside many studies that did not fit their narrow definition of evidence.
The GrassrootsHealth Scientists Panel of 41 expert vitamin D researchers and medical practitioners maintain their position based on the evidence that they see that the serum level should be between 40-60 ng/ml (100-150 nmol/L).”
GrassrootsHealth also published on their site, a selection of quotes on the IOM report from members of their D*action Panel of Vitamin D Scientists/Researchers.
Renowned vitamin D expert, Dr. Michael F. Holick, who himself takes 3,000 IU of vitamin D daily, responded to the IOM’s report saying:
“The IOM at least recognized that the last recommendations were woefully inadequate and have recommended for both children and adults to increase their vitamin D intake by 200%. This is a step in the right direction but they still need to go further. There is no downside to increasing vitamin D intake.”
In an article, titled “Institute of Medicine Report on Vitamin D is Wrong, Wrong, Wrong,” the Alliance for Natural Health wrote:
“The IOM is wrong in its findings, wrong in ignoring the bountiful scientific research that indicates the need for higher levels of vitamin D in our system, and wrong for not educating folks about the ability of vitamin D to combat the flu. Our campaign to end the silence on vitamin D is one attempt to educate the public and get the government to listen to the clear scientific findings.”
Mike Adams, the Health Ranger of NaturalNews.com contends that the new vitamin D recommendations are part of a ploy by the pharmaceutical industry to keep the American people vitamin D deficient for as long as possible, while they line their pockets. He writes:
“Raising the daily intake recommendation from 200 IUs to 600 IUs still leaves most people pitifully vitamin D deficient, and a flood of scientific research that has emerged over the last four years reveals that vitamin D deficiency causes cancer, osteoporosis, depression, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disorders and depression.
In other words, vitamin D deficiency is the cornerstone of the pharmaceutical industry’s profit machine. Most of the really big money now being shoveled into the cancer industry and the drug companies comes from patients who are woefully deficient in vitamin D.”
While I am not sure that I believe there is a “massive conspiracy” underlying the new vitamin D recommendations, I am certainly disappointed by them. I also understand that making sweeping changes to public health policy is no simple task, so I can’t say I am surprised that these new guidelines are not what we had hoped for.
Regardless, I hope our health-conscious readers will continue to make informed decisions about what is best for their own health, getting their vitamin D levels tested and working with a health care provider if necessary. I encourage you to visit the Vitamin D Council’s website for more information about vitamin D.
What do you think about the new vitamin D recommendations? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.
Article updated on: December 3rd, 2010