Vitamin D: It’s Hip, It’s Cool — Oh, Wait, Hold On A Minute…

Last year I bragged about vitamin D and the evidence showing benefits in multiple arenas, especially for fighting colds and flu. I even started taking 2,000 IU a day of vitamin D3.

But now…one wonderfully annoying thing about medicine is that one headline will say “medicine A is great for disease X”, but wait a couple years and another famous journal will contradict it — thus frustrating doctors and confusing the public.

And now, of course, we have a long-awaited publication from the highly-esteemed U.S. Institute of Medicine, which last November published their findings about vitamin D and calcium. The IOM is very official and their papers are usually considered top quality standards of care. In this case, they were not very enthusiastic about vitamin D supplements for most people, and concluded that actual vitamin D deficiency is not so common. They specifically recommended only 600 IU a day supplement for people aged 1-70 years;  over 70 years needs 800 IU a day. That’s it; no mega-doses, not even 1,000 IU, for anyone. Not only that, but anyone taking more than 4,000 IU a day is not only getting no additional benefit but they increase their risk of kidney stones and other issues (how many of you are taking 5,000 IU a day?). Here’s the table of their official recommendations:

vitamin d and calcium recommendations

This more cautious review came just a couple weeks after another well-regarded review from Canada which was much more enthusiastic about supplements and recommended 400-1,000 IU for most people, and 2,000 IU or more for “high risk” people such as people prone to osteoporosis.

So, what do we do now? We have two large and well-esteemed groups reviewing the same research papers and coming up with different conclusions.

What Will I Do?

I do respect the Institute of Medicine, and perhaps the Canada study is a bit too local to apply to other areas. So I would tend to stick to the IOM’s more conservative official recommendations as the new standard of care.  But I also still like those previous papers I mentioned last year about 1,200 IU of vitamin D3 helping cut down on colds and flu by 42%, so I will personally continue to take my 2,000 IU of vitamin D3. Is the dose too high? Maybe, probably — but just wait a couple years and another study may change things yet again. Plus, 2,000 IU doesn’t seem to raise the risk of kidney stones. So, for me, the possible benefits outweigh possible harms.

However, I do think there are some take-home points for the general public:

  • All children should be taking a supplement of 400 IU a day, which should also include calcium (especially for girls!), mostly for bone health
  • People taking over 5,000 IU a day are wasting their money and also increasing their risk for kidney stones
  • Many healthy people may not need it, but if a small dose of 1,000 IU cuts down on your winter colds and flu, then why not take it?
  • Blood testing for vitamin D levels can be done but still isn’t very practical, cost-effective or useful

Those of you who want to read more can read the excellent New York Times review this week about vitamin D.

Follow me on:
Twitter @RichardStCyrMD
Facebook @BainbridgeBabaDoc

6 thoughts on “Vitamin D: It’s Hip, It’s Cool — Oh, Wait, Hold On A Minute…”

  1. Global Vitamin D Maps In Development As Concern Increases Over Widespread Vitamin D Deficiency In Asia

    Bone health experts attending the 1st Asia-Pacific Osteoporosis Meeting in Singapore this week have flagged vitamin D deficiency as a major concern in the region, particularly in South Asia where the problem is especially severe and widespread across the entire population. Dr. Nikhil Tandon, Professor of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences of New Delhi, India highlighted the results of various studies which show severe deficiency across India and Pakistan in all age groups, as well as insufficiency in populations of South-East and East Asia.

    Read article at

  2. I just wrote this for the Beijing Mamas group

    post title: Pregnant Women Need More Vitamin D.

    Article at CNN title:

    Lack of vitamin D at birth may increase respiratory infection risk

    Here’s more evidence to add to research from earlier this year that pregnant women need more vitamin D: A study led by Dr. Carlos Camargo, Jr., of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, finds that newborns with low levels of cord-blood 25-hydroxyvitamin D (a measure of overall vitamin D status) had a greater risk of respiratory infection than those who had higher levels.

    Liora: get ten minutes twice a day of full-on face sunshine (even more of the body is better– Darker skinned women will need more time and exposure. The above is for Caucasians who start making melanin around 12-15 minutes of sunshine, stopping the Vit. D production on the skin) Reduce washing/rinsing as this washes off the Vit. D produced on the skin- which is absorbed over a long period of time, up to a 24 hour period.

    or… take a supplement, We get it at a tiny bottle of Vit. D liquid. They have several brands and come in all strengths from 100 IU per drop to 4,000.

  3. from the Natural News newsletter (love ’em)
    February 22, 2011

    “(NaturalNews) Evidence in support of the health-promoting properties of vitamin D continues to mount as new research shows a direct link between blood levels of the super-nutrient and the risk of developing colon cancer.

    ….. The International Journal of Cancer has published a meta-analysis from nine comprehensive studies showing dramatic reductions in colon cancer risk with higher blood concentrations of the sunshine vitamin.

    The pooled data from the studies reviewed showed that for every 10 nanograms per milliliter increase in vitamin D blood level saturation, there was a corresponding decrease in colon cancer incidence of 15%. Breast cancer risk was lowered by 11% with the same increase in vitamin D. Researchers made note that they were testing the biologically active form of vitamin D known as cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) and not the less active precursor (vitamin D2 or ergocalciferol). Vitamin D was tested using the more accurate 25(OH)D blood test.

    The role of vitamin D in cancer prevention has been theorized since the early 1940`s when scientists discovered that cancer rates were much lower in countries closest to the equator….

    full article here

  4. Two new European studies looking at vitamin D and cognitive function have taken us one step further. The first study, led by neuroscientist David Llewellyn of the University of Cambridge, assessed vitamin D levels in more than 1,700 men and women from England, aged 65 or older. Subjects were divided into four groups based on vitamin D blood levels: severely deficient, deficient, insufficient (borderline) and optimum, then tested for cognitive function.

    The scientists found that the lower the subjects’ vitamin D levels, the more negatively impacted was their perform­ance on a battery of mental tests. Compared with people with optimum vitamin D levels, those in the lowest quartile were more than twice as likely to be cognitively impaired.

    A second study, led by scientists at the University of Manchester in England and published online this past May, looked at vitamin D levels and cognitive performance in more than 3,100 men aged 40 to 79 in eight different countries across Europe. The data show that those people with lower vitamin D levels exhibited slower information-processing speed. This correlation was particularly strong among men older than 60 years.

    “The fact that this relationship was established in a large-scale, clinical human study is very important,” Przybelski says, “but there’s still a lot we don’t know.”

    full article here

  5. (NaturalNews Newsletter) Wednesday, March 02, 2011

    In findings just published in the journal Anticancer Research, scientists at the University of California (UC) San Diego School of Medicine and Creighton University School of Medicine in Omaha have reported that most people need a much higher intake of vitamin D. And that simple step added to your life could slash your risk of developing serious diseases — including cancer — by about 50 percent.

    “We found that daily intakes of vitamin D by adults in the range of 4000 to 8000 IU are needed to maintain blood levels of vitamin D metabolites in the range needed to reduce by about half the risk of several diseases — breast cancer, colon cancer, multiple sclerosis, and type 1 diabetes,” Dr. Cedric Garland, professor of family and preventive medicine at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center, said in a statement to media.

    He added that the amount of vitamin D needed for disease prevention is far higher than the minimal dosage of 400 IU per day that was originally prescribed in the 20th century to treat and prevent rickets. However, upping vitamin D intake into the 4000 IU daily range and higher appears to be safe, according to a December 2010 report from the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine.

    Full article here:

    1. This Natural News bulletin directly contradicts, and even manipulates, the data from the IOM’s report in November 2010. The IOM specifically says that “the committee concludes that once intakes of vitamin D surpass 4,000 IUs per day, the risk for harm begins to increase”. They also specifically mention that “a majority of the population is meeting its needs for vitamin D”, which they have estimated at 20 nanograms per milliliter. Everyone should read the original report: This is a good example why people should only trust health websites that are certified by the HONCode alliance as trustworthy sites…

Leave a Reply