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Stronger Bones & Cancer Prevention? The Great Vitamin D Scam

Posted by Jerry De Luca on Tuesday, October 16, 2018

In spite of claims from misguided “doctors”, wellness gurus and the bloated supplement industry, the evidence is accumilating that Vitamin D supplements are completely useless for the majority of people. It’s human nature to opt for the easy way to strengthen bones or prevent cancer – just pop a pill – when eating healthy and exercise is by far the best but harder option. Vitamin D supplement sales in the US were $936 million in 2017.

Substantial Lack of Evidence 

“The new research, published in Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, looked at 81 randomized trials on whether vitamin D prevents fractures and falls, and improves bone mineral density in adults. The findings of the review were unequivocal. ‘There is little justification for the use of vitamin D supplements to maintain or improve musculoskeletal health,’ the authors wrote, except in rare cases when patients are at high risk of or being treated for rickets and osteomalacia.

“‘Something like 40 percent of older adults in the US take vitamin D supplements because they think it’s going to prevent against fractures and falls or cancer,’ said Alison Avenell, the clinical chair of health services research at the University of Aberdeen and an author on the Lancet study, ‘and we’re saying the supplements for fractures and falls aren’t going to do that.’

“This new research builds on previous meta-studies and the large-scale randomized trials that have shown the fat-soluble hormone doesn’t prevent fractures and may not have a role in preventing cancer, but can increase the risk of kidney stones when taken along with calcium. Of course, there are some cases when supplementation can be helpful: During pregnancy, for example, or for people who have been diagnosed with health conditions that may lead to vitamin deficiencies, like liver disease or multiple sclerosis. People with asthma, those don’t get into the sun at all (like the homebound or institutionalized), or those from ethnic backgrounds with darker skin — African, Afro-Caribbean and South Asian — may also benefit from a supplement.

“But for a health boost in people with no symptoms of deficiency, the tablet shows so little utility that doctors are even questioning why we bother measuring vitamin D levels in people who aren’t at risk. Most of us actually get enough vitamin D without even trying.”

Bone Health for Seniors?

“For many years, recommendations for prevention and treatment of osteoporosis have included increasing calcium intake (by diet or supplements) and use of vitamin D supplements. Since the average dietary calcium intake in most countries is much less than that recommended by guidelines, many older people are advised to take calcium supplements to prevent osteoporosis. The recommendations have been implemented successfully: over half of older Americans take calcium and vitamin D supplements, either prescribed or over the counter, and bone health is the most common specific motivation for use of nutritional supplements.

“However, this behaviour does not reflect evidence that has emerged since 2002 that such supplements do not reduce the risk of fracture and may result in harm. Guideline bodies also continue to recommend calcium and vitamin D supplements. Here, we argue that change is made difficult by a complex web of interactions between industry, advocacy organisations, and academia.”

Vitamin D For Multiple Sclerosis Patients

“The bottom line was that vitamin D supplementation did not change bone health in patients with MS after 96 weeks. ‘Our results do not support that high dose weekly vitamin D supplementation is beneficial for bone health in ambulatory persons with MS, and suggest that weekly vitamin D supplementation alone is not sufficient to prevent bone loss in persons with MS who are not vitamin D deficient,’ researchers concluded.”

Screening for Vitamin D

“Most organizations do not recommend universal screening for vitamin D. The US Preventive Services Task Force concluded that the benefits as well as any potential harms from vitamin D screening and early interventions cannot be determined.

“Further more, groups such as the Endocrine Society, the American Geriatrics Society, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have concluded that routine screening is not necessary.

“Nevertheless, routine laboratory blood work on patients may include screening for 25(OH)D levels. Some clinicians may be concerned about potential legal liability if they fail to screen their patients for vitamin D status, particularly if it is part of a clinical pathways or standard order sheet, but vitamin D screening is not considered a mandatory health care practice. Widespread screening in the face of these recommendations can incur unnecessary health care costs. The marked increase in routine vitamin D screening in the last several years has undoubtedly incurred substantial costs for the health care system.”

Holick, Paltrow, Oz and Oprah

Dr. Michael  Holick of Boston University Medical Center has been the prime force behind the supposed benefits, and has convinced several influencers of popular culture to parrot his beliefs:

“Since 2011, Dr. Holick’s advocacy has been embraced by the wellness-industrial complex. Gwyneth Paltrow’s website, Goop, cites his writing. Dr. Mehmet Oz has described vitamin D as ‘the No. 1 thing you need more of,’ telling his audience that it can help them avoid heart disease, depression, weight gain, memory loss and cancer. And Oprah Winfrey’s website tells readers that, ‘knowing your vitamin D levels might save your life.’ Mainstream doctors have also urged Americans to get more of the hormone, including Dr. Walter Willett, a widely respected professor at Harvard Medical School…….

“Yet Dr. Holick also has extensive financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry. He received nearly $163,000 from 2013 to 2017 from pharmaceutical companies for consulting and other services, according to Medicare’s Open Payments database, which tracks payments from drug and device manufacturers. The companies paying him included Sanofi-Aventis, which markets vitamin D supplements; Shire, which makes drugs for hormonal disorders that are given with vitamin D; Amgen, which makes an osteoporosis treatment; and Roche Diagnostics and Quidel Corporation, which both make vitamin D tests……

“Some researchers say vitamin D may never have been the miracle pill that it appeared to be. Sick people who stay indoors tend to have low vitamin D levels; their poor health is likely the cause of their low vitamin D levels, not the other way around, said Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.”

What’s really behind Vitamin D Deficiency?

“Though observational studies have linked low blood levels of vitamin D to a wide variety of diseases and conditions, it is very possible that low vitamin D is not a cause of these conditions but rather an effect of them (this is called reverse causality)—or it may also be just a marker of poor health in general. That is, disorders such as heart disease, depression, and diabetes, even in their early stages, may result in vitamin D deficiency because they keep people indoors and thus reduce sun exposure. Healthy, active people may simply spend more time outdoors, so they have higher blood levels of D.”

Additional Info

Effect of Monthly High-Dose Vitamin D Supplementation on Cardiovascular Disease in the Vitamin D Assessment Study: A Randomized Clinical Trial  https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamacardiology/article-abstract/2615260

Interventions to Prevent Falls in Older Adults: Updated Evidence Report and Systematic Review for the US Preventive Services Task Force  https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2678103

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Jerry De Luca is a Christian freelance writer who loves perusing dozens of interesting and informative publications. When he finds any useful info he summarizes it, taking the main points, and creates a (hopefully) helpful blog post.


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