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NIH Expert Says Don’t Worry About Vitamin D this Winter

NIH Expert Says Don’t Worry About Vitamin D this Winter
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Quotes from the National Institute of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements Director Stefan M. Pasiakos, Ph.D., highlights everything that’s wrong about the federal government’s attitude towards supplements. Action Alert!

Are you getting enough vitamin D? According to the numbers, for many Americans the answer is a resounding “no.” Government data from the period 2013-16, the most recent data we’ve got, show that a mind-boggling 97% of women, and 92% of men, don’t meet even the pitifully low ‘estimated average requirement’ (EAR) of 400 IU (10 mcg) a day of the “sunshine vitamin” from food and beverages. This level means that only half of a healthy population get this minimal amount. It only drops a few percentage points when you add intake from supplements because not enough people take enough vitamin D.

This lack of exposure to vitamin D—and the sun—makes the vast majority of Americans more susceptible to a wide variety of diseases and infections. This being the case, you’d think that a director of the National Institute of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS)—a program supposedly focused on deepening our knowledge about healthy dietary supplements—would be shouting from the rooftops about the critical need for vitamin D supplementation to support public health. Unfortunately, you would be wrong.

In a recent email blast, the ODS boasted about its Director, Stefan M. Pasiakos, Ph.D., being quoted in a recent news article from The Messenger: Do You Need Vitamin D Supplements This Winter? What Experts Want You to Know. Here’s some of what Dr. Pasiakos had to say after paying brief lip service to the many important functions vitamin D plays in the body, including for calcium absorption and supporting muscle, brain, nerve, and immune system health:

“But this refers to vitamin D broadly,” Dr. Pasiakos tells The Messenger. “Vitamin D supplements aren’t necessarily needed unless someone isn’t getting enough vitamin D from the foods and beverages they consume.” 

We hear you ask: whatever stopped Dr. Pasiakos from telling the public that nearly every American, regardless of ethnicity, isn’t getting enough? Let alone the fact that those with darker skins need more in the first place. What a lost opportunity from a supposed “expert” who is clearly out of touch with data from the office that employs him, before the winter sets in, to get people to really up their vitamin D supplement intake!

In our view, this is shockingly bad advice and leaves out some crucial information about vitamin D that so many could benefit from. As we mentioned above, the levels government considers ‘adequate’ for vitamin D, and nearly every other micronutrient, are far too low. For most people, the government not only sets EARs that only benefit half the population, that we mentioned above, they also set Recommended Daily Allowances or RDAs, that are intended to be the amount that meet the needs of nearly every adult (97.5% of the population to be precise). The NIH recommended RDA for vitamin D is still very low at just 600 IU vitamin D per day. But this number wasn’t derived from what level is best for optimizing our health, but rather from the amount of vitamin D necessary to prevent the vitamin D gross deficiency disease, rickets. This figure also doesn’t take into account the big differences between individuals in our ability to convert vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) or D2 (ergocalciferol) to the active, circulating form of vitamin D, 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D, a vital prohormone.

Integrative health experts will tell you that the NIH levels are simply ridiculous. Those who follow these recommendations will not even come close to being able to take advantage of the therapeutic effects of vitamin D supplementation. We reported previously that some experts recommend achieving circulating blood levels as high as 80 ng/mL of 25-hydroxyvitamin D. Achieving such levels often requires supplementing with 5,000-8,000 IU vitamin D per day, perhaps even more, depending on the individual. Achieving the right vitamin D levels is highly dependent on an individual’s biology and should ideally be done in consultation with a suitably qualified and experienced healthcare professional because blood levels need to be monitored. Alternatively, finger prick tests that measure 25-hydroxyvitamin D are now widely available but sometimes not quite as accurate, and you should aim for a blood level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D of 40-80 ng/ml, as recommended by the leading vitamin D experts who have contributed to the work of the Grassroots Health Research Institute.

Our collogues at ANH International have elaborated on some of the factors that stand in the way of optimizing our blood levels (lack of sufficient sunlight exposure, the use of sunscreens, consuming too little of foods high in vitamin D, etc.). The combination of these factors make it pure folly for people like Dr. Pasiakos to be so equivocal about vitamin D supplementation. Let alone ignoring the fact that 97% of women and 92% of men don’t even make it to the EAR despite the government having supported vitamin D food and beverage fortification programs!

When almost all Americans are not getting enough vitamin D according to the government’s own figures, the time for prevarication is long past. The simple truth is that, for the vast majority of us, we simply will not get enough vitamin D from sun exposure and diet alone, which means we need to supplement to optimize the many health functions vitamin D plays in the body. It’s a shame that the NIH’s ODS, the one government office dedicated to supplement science, cannot—or will not—acknowledge this.

All of this highlights the need for more information about supplement benefits, not less. Help us spread this message in the halls of Congress.

Action Alert! Write to Congress in support of the free flow of information about the many benefits of dietary supplements. Please send your message immediately.

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