The hoopla over vitamin D reached a crescendo this year, with article after article and website after website touting this vitaminâ€™s amazing ability to prevent diseases ranging from the common cold to cancer. As a result, many doctors found themselves fielding patient requests for vitamin D testing, while others jumped on the bandwagon and began promoting both testing and supplements to their patients. Not surprisingly, sales of vitamin D supplements quickly reached record levels.
The IOM is an independent, nonprofit organization that provides unbiased and authoritative advice to decision makers and the public. The IOM was asked by the United States and Canadian governments to review all of the research available on vitamin D and calcium. The report it released was written by a 14-member committee, which reviewed nearly 1000 published studies.
The committeeâ€™s findings confirm, yet again, that when it comes to vitamins and supplements, more is not always better. Hereâ€™s what they found:
- There is no evidence to show that it is beneficial to take the very high levels of vitamin D that have been recommended over the past few years.
- Very high levels of vitamin D could be harmful.
- Most people get adequate amounts of vitamin D through their diet and sun exposure.
- Most people do not need calcium supplements. The one group that may not be getting enough calcium is adolescent girls.
- Older women who take too much calcium are at greater risk of developing kidney stones or heart disease.
- For bone health, the level of vitamin D in the blood needs to be 20 to 30 nanograms. Most people who have a vitamin D blood test will be in this range.
- Laboratories can set any level they want to label people â€œdeficient.â€ The lower the level the more people who will deemed â€œdeficientâ€ and who will be told they should take supplements.
- Vitamin D may help prevent other health problems, but there is currently not enough evidence to say that it does.
Based on its review of the data, the IOM recommends that people up to age 70 should get no more than 600 IUs of vitamin D a day, and that after age 70 people no more than 800 IUs. The last time the vitamin D recommendations were updated was in 1997. Those recommendations called for children to get 200 IUs a day; adults up to 70 to get 400 IUs;, and people over 70 to get 600 IUs. So, while the IOM is recommending higher doses, they are not recommending doses anywhere near what some doctors, books, and websites have been promoting: 3,000 IUs and higher.
Why should you believe what the IOM says? They did not go into this thinking vitamin D was good or not good. Their intent was to determine whether people were getting adequate amounts of vitamin D, if current recommendations should be changed, and if very high levels of vitamin D were beneficial or potentially harmful. I point this out because reviewing the comments left on news sites about the report itâ€™s clear that many people believe the IOM is influenced by pharmaceutical companies, or Congress, or the milk industry, or is biased in some other way. In reality, the IOM does not benefit in any way by saying there is no evidence that vitamin D is as beneficial as many people have come to believe it is.
Because supplements are widely available, no one can get people to stop taking lots of vitamin D. But before you join the bandwagon (or if you already have) think about this: not that long ago vitamin E was the supplement-of-the-day, with high levels of vitamin E use being widely promoted for an array of health benefits. But we now know that vitamin E didnâ€™t really offer those benefits at allâ€”and that high levels can actually be dangerous.
Repeatedly, we have learned that supplements donâ€™t always do what actual foods do, and that your best bet is to eat a well-balanced diet. You can learn more about which foods are good sources of vitamin D here. So, save the money youâ€™d spend on vitamin D supplements and buy yourself some comfy new shoes to wear for a walk around the blockâ€”which really can reduce your risk of disease!