Millions of Americans spend billions of dollars on vitamin combinations, presumably to boost their health and fill gaps in their diets. But while people who don't eat enough of certain nutrients may be urged to get them in pill form, the government doesn't recommend routine vitamin supplementation as a way to prevent chronic diseases.
By Dr. Mercola
Last November, researchers at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research declared that vitamin supplements are probably useless when it comes to preventing heart disease and/or cancer.
Their seriously flawed analysis (which, sadly, is being used by the US Preventive Services Task Force to update its recommendations on supplement use) was widely reported by the media.
Now, the attack against vitamin supplements has heated up yet again—this time they're trying to quell the idea that vitamin D, specifically, has any useful purpose for the average person.
Numerous media sources have trumpeted the findings of a recent meta-analysis, which claims that vitamin D supplements are not only useless against heart disease, stroke and cancer, but may do more harm than good, and that further investigation into vitamin D would likely be “pointless”! According to the authors of the study:
“Available evidence does not lend support to vitamin D supplementation and it is very unlikely that the results of a future single randomized clinical trial will materially alter the results from current meta-analyses.”
What's more, they also found that people taking vitamin D supplements had an increased risk for hip fracture, which prompted Professor Karl Michaëlsson, a researcher at Uppsala University in Sweden, to publish a call for stricter labeling on vitamin D supplements. In his editorial, which accompanied the featured analysis, he writes:
“Without stringent indications — i.e. supplementing those without true vitamin D insufficiency — there is a legitimate fear that vitamin D supplementation might actually cause net harm.”
It should be noted that the dose given to the women in the study with increased fracture rates was 500,000 IU, all in one dose. This is an intake the body cannot absorb and process properly and the toxicity of the dose itself was not a surprise to the vitamin D researchers. The increased fractures were seen shortly after the huge dose but the rate declined in later months.
Research Shows Vitamin D Sufficiency Is Critical for Good Health
Meanwhile, a robust and rapidly growing body of research clearly shows that vitamin D is absolutely critical for good health and disease prevention, in part due to the fact that it influences about 10 percent of all your genes.
Just one example of an important gene that vitamin D up-regulates is your ability to fight infections and chronic inflammation. It also produces over 200 anti-microbial peptides, the most important of which is cathelicidin, a naturally occurring broad-spectrum antibiotic.
Since the early 2000s, scientific investigations into the effects of vitamin D have ballooned. By the end of 2012, there were nearly 34,000 published studies on the effects of vitamin D, and there are well over 800 references in the medical literature showing vitamin D's effectiveness against cancer alone. According to Carole Baggerly, founder of GrassrootsHealth, as much as 90 percent of ordinary breast cancer may in fact be related to vitamin D deficiency.
Granted, the featured review is rebuking vitamin D supplements only. They're not trying to claim that vitamin D deficiency doesn't have any repercussions for your health. On the contrary, it supports the notion that sun exposure is your best source of vitamin D, as your skin naturally creates it in response to UV radiation.
However, many people, especially those living in northern latitudes, are simply unable to get the necessary sun exposure needed to maintain clinically relevant vitamin D levels of 50-70 ng/ml year-round.
The Vitamin D Controversy Heats Up
In the featured video at the top of this article, Carole Baggerly interviews Dr. Cedric Garland of UCSD Moores Cancer Center about this latest meta-review. Another prominent vitamin D expert and researcher, Dr. Michael F. Holick, M.D., PhD., author of The Vitamin D Solution, has also dismissed the analysis, calling it flawed and “silly.” (Incidentally, Dr. Holick is the person responsible for identifying the major circulating form of vitamin D—25-hydroxyvitamin D3—which is the form of vitamin D doctors typically measure now to assess vitamin D status.) According to Dr. Garland:
“This meta-analysis is nothing new and is already obsolete, since it is mainly based on old papers that used too little vitamin D to expect any effect. A New Zealand study saying we should only supplement people with vitamin D deficiency and evidence of bone loss is equally wrong. Virtually everyone in New Zealand, and most adults in the US, are vitamin D deficient by modern criteria, being below 32 ng/ml.
The reality is that we now know that they are deficient with regard to extraskeletal effects of 25(OH)D if their serum level is below 40 ng/ml. These papers should be disregarded as obsolete work. We are moving into a new era of using vitamin D3 in doses no less that 4,000 IU/day for people aged 9 years and older… Studies using less than 4,000 IU/day are on the verge of obsolescence.”
Are You Vitamin D Deficient?
Some news sources, such as the Star Tribune, have noted that high-risk groups such as babies, pregnant women, and the elderly are still advised to take vitamin D supplements. The thing is, a majority of people, regardless of age, sex, or nationality, are in fact low or deficient in vitamin D, and stand to benefit from raising their levels into the clinically significant levels, which is higher than the recommended “normal.” (For more information, see the next section below.) Before the year 2000, very few doctors ever considered the possibility that you might be vitamin D deficient. But as the technology to measure vitamin D became inexpensive and widely available, more and more studies were done, and it became increasingly clear that vitamin D deficiency was absolutely rampant. For example:
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 32 percent of children and adults throughout the US were vitamin D deficient
- The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that 50 percent of children aged one to five years old, and 70 percent of children between the ages of six and 11, are deficient or insufficient in vitamin D
- Researchers such as Dr. Holick estimate that 50 percent of the general population is at risk of vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency
Now Is a Great Time to Test Your Vitamin D Levels
The month of February is typically when you have the least amount of sun exposure, so right now is an ideal time to test your vitamin D levels to get an idea of what your levels are at their lowest. If you're low, take proactive measures to raise your levels, and then retest in mid-summer.
The D*Action Project by GrassrootsHealth is a very cost effective solution. To participate, simply purchase the D*Action Measurement Kit and follow the registration instructions included. (Please note that 100 percent of the proceeds from the kits go to fund the research project. I do not charge a single dime as a distributor of the test kits.)
As a participant, you agree to test your vitamin D levels twice a year during a five-year study, and share your health status to demonstrate the public health impact of this nutrient. There is a $65 fee every six months for your sponsorship of this research project, which includes a test kit to be used at home, and electronic reports on your ongoing progress. You will get a follow up email every six months reminding you “it's time for your next test and health survey.”
As for HOW to optimize your vitamin D levels, I firmly believe that appropriate sun exposure is the best way. In fact, I personally have not taken a vitamin D supplement for three or four years, yet my levels are in the 70 ng/ml range. There's a handy smartphone app called DMinder (dminder.info) that will tell you how much UV radiation you're getting and how many IUs of vitamin D you're making based on your local weather conditions (reported from the weather service) and other individual parameters such as your skin tone and age. It will also tell you when to get out of the sun, to protect yourself from sunburn.
If you can't get enough sunshine, then a safe tanning bed would be your next best option. Most tanning equipment use magnetic ballasts to generate light. These magnetic ballasts are well-known sources of EMF fields that can contribute to cancer. If you hear a loud buzzing noise while in a tanning bed, it has a magnetic ballast system. I strongly recommend you avoid these types of beds and restrict your use of tanning beds to those that use electronic ballasts.
If your circumstances don't allow you to access the sun or a safe tanning bed, then you really only have one option if you want to raise your vitamin D, and that is to take a vitamin D supplement. GrassrootsHealth has a helpful chart showing the average adult dose required to reach healthy vitamin D levels based upon your measured starting point. Many experts agree that 35 IUs of vitamin D per pound of body weight could be used as an estimate for your ideal dose.
If you Opt for Oral Vitamin D, Remember Vitamin K2
Last but not least, if you do opt for a vitamin D supplement, you also need to take vitamin K2. The biological role of vitamin K2 is to help move calcium into the proper areas in your body, such as your bones and teeth. It also helps remove calcium from areas where it shouldn't be, such as in your arteries and soft tissues.
Vitamin K2 deficiency is actually what produces the consequences similar to vitamin D toxicity, which includes inappropriate calcification that can lead to hardening of your arteries. The reason for this is because when you take vitamin D, your body creates more vitamin K2-dependent proteins that move calcium around in your body. Without vitamin K2, those proteins remain inactivated, so the benefits of those proteins remain unrealized. So remember, if you take supplemental vitamin D, you're creating an increased demand for K2. Together, these two nutrients help strengthen your bones and improve your heart health.
Restoring your health is a matter of first restoring normal function. The best results I have seen come from people who follow a simple program that encompasses all of the above questions. It doesn’t matter what your complaint is — it could be fatigue, weight gain, PMS, hot flashes, heart disease, arthritis, or some other degenerative or autoimmune disease. The point is, before you start swallowing some magic formula, you need to make sure all of the key areas (digestion, elimination, hormones, blood sugar) are functioning properly. Otherwise you may be caught in a ‘vicious’ cycle, where one system throws another system out of balance.