Don’t fall for bad science! Debunking the latest misguided “advice” on vitamin D

The British Medical Journal is at it again when it comes to ridiculous opinions and studies about vitamin D research.

In a 2014 Daily Dispatch (“Facts should always outweigh opinions, but they don’t”), I reported on two large research reviews published in the BMJ. The first review showed that vitamin D supplementation reduced overall death rates in older adults. And the second one linked high levels of vitamin D to improved health in children.

These studies clearly showed that people should supplement with vitamin D every day. But, believe it or not, in the very same issue in which these studies were published, the BMJ editors wrote an editorial questioning the need for vitamin D supplementation.

Now, the BMJ editors have created more confusion by publishing a new research review titled “Should adults take vitamin D supplements to prevent disease?”1

Their misguided answer to this question? No.

Convoluted research results in contradictory conclusions

The review analyzed clinical trials on the impact of vitamin D supplements on bone and muscle health. The researchers concluded that taking D supplements doesn’t reduce the risk of bone fractures or other musculoskeletal issues.

If that weren’t ridiculous enough, the researchers took their stance even further. “We conclude that current evidence does not support the use of vitamin D supplementation to prevent disease,” said lead researcher Mark Bolland, associate professor of medicine at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

What about all of the evidence about how D lowers the risk of cancer, dementia, diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic diseases?

In an effort to figure out what the researchers were talking about, I took a closer look at this study. And I discovered that the researchers specifically noted how clinical trials have failed to show that vitamin D supplementation reduces the risk to bones and muscles posed by “falls and fractures.”

So the researchers’ claim about D failing to prevent disease is really limited only to observations about fractures—not a word about any other disease or, technically speaking, any disease at all

I suppose they might be excused for letting the government RDA define what they consider to be vitamin D-related “disease,” limited only to bone health and osteoporosis, and ignoring all of the scientific evidence on virtually every chronic disease.

But then, the researchers went on to state that vitamin D supplementation actually may be beneficial in people who are at high risk, such as those in nursing homes, darker-skinned individuals, and people living in colder climates.

In other words, the researchers concluded that people don’t need vitamin D, unless they are people who need vitamin D! 

Which, by their definition, is most of the world’s population!

What you really need for bone health

Besides focusing on only one “disease”—bone health/osteoporosis—the researchers also focused on only one nutrient for what is a complex metabolic and nutritional condition.

For instance, as I wrote in a November 2016 Daily Dispatch [“The common nutrient that can reverse osteoporosis (Hint: It’s NOT calcium!)”], other research has revealed that vitamin C is as important as calcium for bone health, and for preventing osteoporosis and fractures.

(British Royal Navy Surgeon Dr. James Lind discovered the importance of vitamin C for bone health back in the 1700s, so you would think the British Medical Journal editors should be alert to this naval history—instead of studying their own navels when it comes to nutrition research.)

The vitamin D researchers also noted that people can get D from “oily fish, egg yolk, red meat, liver, fortified breakfast cereals, fat spreads, and milk.” But with the exception of fish, so-called heart “experts” have been telling you not to eat these foods. So what is a body to do, if not supplement?

At least someone in the U.K., away from the editorial desk of the BMJ, is paying attention to vitamin D supplementation. As of last summer, an organization called Public Health England has advised that everyone take 400 IU daily of vitamin D to protect bone and muscle health.

Of course, 400 IU is far below what the science suggests (and even below the scandalous 600 IU per day recommended by the U.S. government). In fact, it’s just one-tenth of what the U.S. RDA says is the recommended maximum daily intake.

The final little nuance from the vitamin D researchers is that supplementing with D is “unlikely to do any harm, but in the adult population, supplementing at the Public Health England levels does not prevent falls or fractures.”

At least they got that right. Or half right, anyway…see the sidebar below for more on the topic of vitamin D’s role in falls. But it IS true that research shows that D levels that are “sufficient” for bone health are not optimal for preventing other chronic diseases.

Why you need 10,000 IU of D a day, rain or shine

So what did we miss? Or better, what did these researchers not miss in their analysis?

Based on the credible science, I recommend taking 10,000 IU daily of vitamin D for optimal health and disease prevention.

And while the sun is still at its low winter angle (which doesn’t allow people who live north of Atlanta or Los Angeles to synthesize vitamin D from solar exposure), that will change next month.

So don’t be foolish on April 1: In addition to taking a quality vitamin D supplement every day, make sure to get outside with some uncovered skin 15 minutes a day in the spring, summer, and fall.

Your body, brain, heart, and bones will thank you for that daily dose of D.

 

SIDEBAR:

Researchers who got it right about vitamin D and bone health

There will always be an England, and it seems the British Medical Journal editors will always be in denial about vitamin D…until they are subjects for the International Journal of Gerontology.

Maybe then they’ll finally realize that the latter journal actually got it right when it comes to the effect of vitamin D on bone health and falls in older people.

New findings published in the International Journal of Gerontology showed that just 900 IU of vitamin D a day, combined with low-frequency exercise, reduced the risk of falls in older adults by an astounding 74%.

This clinical trial involved 91 men and women, average age of 85, who were divided into four groups. The control group exercised three times a week. Another group exercised twice a week. The third group didn’t exercise, but took 900 IU of vitamin D a day. And the final group exercised twice a week and also took 900 IU daily of D.

The researchers found that the twice-weekly exercise group had a 53% reduction in falls, and the vitamin D group had a 43% reduction. But combining both exercise and supplementation was the clear winner, with the 74% reduction I mentioned earlier.

Why? Well, low-frequency exercise helps signal your bones to undergo healthy remodeling, which helps facilitate vitamin D’s bone-building benefits.

It’s important to note that a little exercise goes a long way. You don’t have to be a marathon runner to have good bones (and you don’t need to ruin your joints in the bargain).

 

Sources:

1“Should adults take vitamin D supplements to prevent disease?” BMJ 2016;355:i6201.

2“Low-frequency Exercise and Vitamin D Supplementation Reduce Falls Among Institutionalized Frail Elderly.” International Journal of Gerontology 2016; 10(4): 202-206.


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