Why doctor recommendations still lag decades behind research for this critical nutrient

Yesterday, I told you about some recent correspondence I’ve had with Dr. George Lundberg, former Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the American Medical Association and founding editor of Medscape, the online journal for medical professionals. Dr. Lundberg shared with me some valuable perspectives about why physicians today don’t always know as much as they could (and should) about “nutritional truth.”

One particular example he gave helped me shed some light on why the medical mainstream has been slow to acknowledge vitamin D as a foundation of good health…

Originally, mainstream medicine studied vitamin D exclusively for its importance in developing and maintaining bone health. Then, as doctors began to check actual vitamin D levels in the blood, we began collecting a research database.

But it was difficult to conduct analyses on this data because different medical labs used different tests, with different units of measure and reference ranges. But one thing was clear: No matter which test was used, Americans appeared severely deficient in this critical nutrient. And studies show this shortcoming contributed to a variety of health problems.

Yet, Dr. Lundberg explained how recently the Agency for Healthcare Research Quality (AHRQ) issued a report that found no consistent correlation between vitamin D and health outcomes.

How the mighty have fallen

I knew the AHRQ way back when, in Washington, D.C., when they issued a report that found spinal manual therapy to be safer, more effective, and more cost-effective for back pain than any regular medical or surgical care.

After that report, the orthopedic medical profession attempted to have Congress shut down the AHRQ. I also knew the current Director of AHRQ back when she was another young, dedicated medical and public health professional trying to do well by the American people.

Given the facts we have uncovered about vitamin D over the past two decades, I no longer know what to think about “crony capitalist” government agencies and their edicts about diet and nutrition, which have been proven wrong time and time again as I have reported — the AHRQ now apparently included.

I don’t have the AHRQ report, but I do have hundreds of peer-reviewed published research studies showing the benefits of vitamin D for a wide range of health conditions. Dozens of studies link low intake and/or low blood levels of this essential nutrient with an increased risk for many common chronic diseases. On the flip side, these studies also show high vitamin D intake and/or higher blood levels lower the risk of many diseases.

Yes, different labs still use different methods and units to measure vitamin D. But all the individual studies used the same procedures within each study, so the comparisons should remain valid.

Other studies even took sun exposure — as an indirect measure of vitamin D levels — into account. And these studies also found many of the same benefits, including benefits for the skin.

One thing missing from the mountain of vitamin D research

But as Dr. Lundberg pointed out, lack of laboratory standardization continues to cause one major problem for patients and doctors alike: We don’t have standardized “deficient,” “insufficient,” “sufficient,” and “optimal” vitamin D blood or tissue levels. Some of my readers write in and tell me they struggle with this very problem.

So patients and doctors don’t really know what to shoot for, and they can’t always tell when to act when levels go too low. I also explained this conundrum in the November 2014 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter. As I explained, I considered it all part of the problem as to why too many people remain low in vitamin D.

Of course, as researchers always recommend, we really do need more controlled, randomized clinical trials that administer vitamin D prospectively as an actual treatment to demonstrate prevention or improvement in outcomes for different diseases. Such studies are very expensive and take a lot of time. And medical researchers have been reluctant to do such studies because of the costs, lack of funding for nutritional research, and perhaps some of the confusion about measurements, as explained by Dr. Lundberg.

But in the meantime, the research we do have clearly indicates that most humans need more of this essential nutrient than they appear to be getting. So my view is there is no reason to delay supplementing with vitamin D.

When I gave the keynote address at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine’s annual continuing medical course in 2006, I was followed by Dr. Michael Holick of Boston University. He originally worked with the “Dean of Vitamin D,” Dr. DeLuca, and gave an impressive review of research on vitamin D benefits and deficiencies up to that point, 10 years ago now.

Since then, the research has only increased on the beneficial activities and health outcomes associated with vitamin D. As you know, I now recommend everyone take 10,000 IU of vitamin D per day, especially at this time of year.

Happy New Year!