Frightening conclusions are being drawn from a flawed vitamin D study. Action Alert!
You can almost see the smile on the reporter’s face at The New York Times who wrote the headline: “Study Finds Another Condition That Vitamin D Pills Don’t Help.” The study on which the article is based did indeed conclude that vitamin D supplementation did not reduce the risk of bone fractures compared to placebo. Several glaring problems with the study were completely ignored by the media. Worse still, some have used the study to suggest that measuring vitamin D levels in patients is useless. Unfortunately, this is what we’ve come to expect from mainstream medicine and the media who dutifully pounce on any opportunity to bash supplements.
The most harmful consequence of this study comes from an editorial discussing the results. It argues that, since the study shows that “vitamin supplements do not have important health benefits…there is no justification for measuring [vitamin D levels] in the general population or treating to a target serum level.”
The idea that this study shows that vitamin D tests are a waste of time and money is absolutely ludicrous but will be music to the ears of insurers and Medicare who will use this as ammunition to no longer cover these tests. It’s as if one study has negated (overnight!) the thousands of articles that have documented vitamin D’s benefits, including for cardiovascular health, immune enhancement, for metabolic disorders, preventing sepsis, and protecting the brain. How many Americans won’t get their vitamin D levels checked, or simply stop taking their vitamin D supplement altogether, based on these recommendations? This is a particularly irresponsible position to take considering government data show that 95 percent of Americans are not getting enough vitamin D. That number will now likely increase thanks to the editorial’s authors and those who think like them.
The study itself found that adults over 50 years of age taking 2,000 IU vitamin D per day for 5.3 years did not result in reduced fracture risk. Few of the participants in the study were deficient in vitamin D before the study; average blood levels of vitamin D achieved in the study were 40 ng/mL.
As we’ve explained previously, the 2,000 IU dose and the blood level achieved by that dose are both far too low. Some recommend achieving circulating blood levels of at least 50 ng/mL vitamin D; some integrative health experts recommend achieving 80 ng/mL. Achieving such levels requires supplementing with about 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 be done in consultation with a healthcare professional, because blood levels need to be monitored.)
Another factor that should be considered when reviewing this study is that vitamins and minerals often work synergistically; this is why randomized controlled trials (RCTs), considered the gold standard of scientific evidence, are often inappropriate for studying supplements. Integrative health experts know that vitamin D works with calcium and vitamin K to protect bones. Vitamins D and K play a central role in calcium metabolism. Vitamin D helps increase calcium levels in the body, and vitamin K helps the body use this calcium by bringing it to bones. In fact, increasing vitamin D intake without adequate vitamin K can cause calcium deposits to build up in arteries, which can lead to heart disease.
This has been demonstrated in RCTs. For example, a Japanese study on postmenopausal osteoporosis had four groups: one taking vitamin D alone, one taking vitamin K alone, one taking vitamins D and K together, and one group taking neither. The study found that only the group taking vitamin D and K together increased bone mineral density. These results were supported by a Korean study showing that the addition of vitamin K to vitamin D and calcium supplements increased bone mineral density after six months.
Some studies have also found that vitamin D alone does help protect bones: compared to those taking a placebo or a smaller dose of vitamin D, those taking 800 to 2,000 IU vitamin D experienced 30 percent fewer hip fractures.
But why go into any of these details when you can write a snappy headline that uncritically accepts the conclusions of a flawed study?
The study was sponsored, among others, by the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements and National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Given the obvious failings of this study, it seems clear that these government agencies are looking out for the drug industry’s bottom line by supporting a narrative that supplements are useless. It is (sadly) telling that the government programs that are supposed to be supportive of supplements and natural health are part of such a deeply flawed study, the conclusions of which direct people NOT to use supplements. It’s no wonder that public health agencies have lost the public trust.
This all shows that the media cannot be trusted when it comes to dietary supplements; nor can the government. They are too captured by conventional thinking, as supported by the American Medical Association and Big Pharma. This thinking is simple: only drugs can treat disease, so anything not a drug claiming to do so is snake oil. It’s these kinds of narratives that also help lawmakers like Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) make his case for why we need more supplement regulations, since they add to the impression cultivated by critics that consumers are being duped by bad actors.
We cannot let them succeed.
Action Alert! Write to Congress and tell them to oppose mandatory product listing for supplements. Please send your message immediately.