Vitamin D: No Miracle Cure

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A new review of studies on vitamin D supplementation show that it does not have a major effect on common chronic diseases. There is no evidence that the risk for heart disease, cancer or stroke is significantly reduced. However, a small reduction in the risk of death (in other words a longer life) was seen in older women taking vitamin D supplements.

In previous studies, relatively small doses of vitamin D were given (800 IU, or less, daily) for limited periods of time and to relatively small groups of people. Currently, several high quality studies (supplementation with high doses to larger groups of people for longer periods of time), and the first results are expected to come in 2015. They will give us much more reliable knowledge.

We can, however, already conclude that any potential effect on heart disease, cancer and stroke is limited (probably at best less than a 15% reduction in risk). Supplementing with vitamin D does not give us immunity to our most common causes of death – if anybody expected it to.

However, very exciting findings remain, indicating that avoiding vitamin D deficiency may provide other health effects. When it comes to treatment for depression, certain pain conditions, reduction of abdominal fat and various diseases associated with the immune system (asthma, seasonal allergies, eczema, MS and upper respiratory tract infections) there are many smaller studies demonstrating a positive effect.

There are many more ongoing studies on Vitamin D – including several gigantic studies as mentioned above – and we’ll soon know more.

It may be that some people have been too enthusiastic: Vitamin D is not a miracle cure for every disease (which uncertain observational studies may lead you to think). But many likely positive effects remain. And it’s still a harmless and promising way of improving your odds for keeping healthy and feeling well during the winter months.

32 comments

Top comments

  1. Diane
    A 15% reduction in risk - if that was a drug made by big pharma that could claim such a big % in reducing risk, they'd be promoting it as the best thing ever and getting everyone to take it and raking in the $$$$$$'s and yet here we are told it is not worth taking!!!!!
    Read more →
  2. FrankG
    As you point out: it is important to stress the difference between a observed benefit from artificially supplementing with a micronutrient, as opposed to any detriment caused by a deficit in that same micronutrient.

    I'm still convinced that eating real whole food, local and seasonal, along with a lifestyle which includes regular physical activity, in fresh air, with clean water and sunshine -- as per our natural human operational manual -- is all a body needs.

    Read more →

All comments

  1. Deneen
    Well, D can't do it's job without proper K2 on board. It IS a waste to take extra D if you aren't making sure that your K2 level is adequate.
  2. Cathy Richardson
    Heart disease, cancer, or stroke were not my main motivators for supplementing Vit D anyway, so this really doesn't deter me from supplementing, as well as getting bits of sun exposure when possible in a northern climate. I have MS, bring it on! Can't wait for the 2015 studies.... these are page turners to me... who ever thought it WAS a "miracle cure"?
  3. FrankG
    As you point out: it is important to stress the difference between a observed benefit from artificially supplementing with a micronutrient, as opposed to any detriment caused by a deficit in that same micronutrient.

    I'm still convinced that eating real whole food, local and seasonal, along with a lifestyle which includes regular physical activity, in fresh air, with clean water and sunshine -- as per our natural human operational manual -- is all a body needs.

  4. Diane
    This is a bit of a non story, isn't it? A review of studies involving people taking a lowish dose of Vitamin D has shown very little benefit.

    These news reports look a lot like the attempts of big pharma to confuse people and keep them dependant on them for drug treatments and vaccines.

    As you so rightly say in your article, the real news will come from the results of the trials using much higher does of Vitamin D.

    I presume the trials referred to are the ones being undertaken by Carole Baggerly of GrassrootsHealth. The website is well worth having look at to find out more:
    http://grassrootshealth.net/

  5. sten
    We use D to just to keep cold and flu away in the winter. Grown ups 5,000 per day and small kids 1,000. It was great to see how the grand kids runny noses just vanished when we started about 5 years ago! These days my winter colds are odd sneezes that lasts up to 10 minutes; a serious improvement from 1 or 2 weeks in bed sometimes with antibiotics before.
    Never any flu shot for me. Those in the high risk group for flu I understand are usually severely deficient in D. And it is best to build up a good deal of D if one HAVE to take a flu shot, to avoid side effects of the shot itself. If it has marginal effects on other things as well, fine! We got what we wanted and do not expect other miracles!
    Sigh!
  6. Boundless
    Without the full text of the article to examine, I'm wondering the usual: glycemic confounding.

    Does the data have anything to say about the effect of supplementation on low carb or keto diets?

    That it has only arguable effects on a glycemic diet, esp. one full of food elements that are adverse for reasons other than being carbs, is unsurprising. It's like comparing earplugs during an earthquake.

    And the K2 thing.

  7. Jennifer Snow
    I personally notice an enormous difference in my joint pain and fatigue when I'm supplementing D and other antioxidants and when I'm not.
  8. Diane
    A 15% reduction in risk - if that was a drug made by big pharma that could claim such a big % in reducing risk, they'd be promoting it as the best thing ever and getting everyone to take it and raking in the $$$$$$'s and yet here we are told it is not worth taking!!!!!
  9. Tom Nikkola
    Disappointing and misleading that they focused on heart disease, cancer and stroke. Most of the compelling reasons for using it aren't about that. Another headliner that unfortunately misled the public of the values of certain nutritional supplements.
  10. Sondra Rose
    Well, D3 certainly has been a miracle for me.

    In 2010, on the advice of our naturopath, my husband started supplementing 12,000 IUs to get his level up. He had tested at 17 ng/ml. I decided to take the same amount and finally got tested a year later at 91 ng/ml. On the high end of normal, but I felt fine and had not gotten sick that winter.

    About 6 months after I had started supplementing my lifelong asthma mysteriously disappeared! I dropped down to 8,000 IUs and continued to feel fine. Retested at 79 ng/ml 6 months later.

    We moved from the Pac NW to Santa Fe a couple of years later and I decided to experiment. I dropped all D3 for 3 months and made sure I got an hour of noontime sun daily. My blood level dropped to 57 ng/ml and my asthma came back. I started taking 8,000 IUs again and 3 weeks later all my asthma symptoms disappeared.

    I also supplement Magnesium and ensure that I get sufficient K2 and A from my diet.

  11. greensleeves
    Mood. I started taking 5K a day & within 10 days everyone was asking me why I was so happy all the time!
  12. Murray
    I remain agnostic on D3 supplementation. I've added it (living in geography that is deprived of high angle sunshine most of the year) but have not noticed any difference. Of course I would not expect anything immediately noticeable regarding chronic disease. It is very difficult to isolate causes for improvements. I also have difficulty with epidemiological studies. If outcome A requires B+C-D for example, then simply adding B to diet will only randomly achieve A and so B supplementation would "prove" disappointing. I take all such studies with a grain of salt until the underlying metabolic pathways are better understood.

    I recall a study of some nasal spray that was supposed to improve muscle building and used by bodybuilder and athletes. So a "study" was done in which a random group of people, including couch potatoes, used the spray and the researchers concluded the spray did not improve muscles (I.e., no statistical significance in the population). Later It was made a banned substance in sports. It sees it did improve muscle building if you lifted weights and learned to use it the way body builders figured out how to use it. So few studies seem to distinguish between it can be effective done right, versus any idiot will benefit so long as they swallow a pill.

  13. Zepp
    Im not agnostic about any suplements.. becuse I know/think they are good for those whit defiencies!

    But, I dont know if there is anything thats good if it is provided more then there needs.. some are even bad in high doses!

    But as living in a country near/on the polar circle.. and redhead/frekled.. and solar sensitive Im not that much in sun even on summer!

    So I take D3 in winter.. at christmas and to the summer starts.

    Im not that fond of supplements at all.. but I take D3 and occasionaly Omega-3!

    Im more about to eat real food and living a better life.. but Im a indoor worker.. and I not thinking of a career of being a outdoor worker.. I am to old for that so im taking som complement supplemets for a western life style!

  14. lowcarb
    Can someone explain if it is always necessary to take vit. K with vit. D3? And what should be average daily dosis? I take now 2000i.u daily?
    Replies: #15, #17
  15. Zepp
    Those Im not agnostic about D3 and how is in need to take supplemets.. Im real agnostic about K supplemets!

    Mostly becuse there are K vitamins in almoste every source of food and our colon can make some of it too!

    K1 seems to convert to K2 in our bodys.. if needed.. and the new K-vitamine that seems to have some benficial effects (K-MK7) seems to only be produced of bacterias.. outside our bodys!

    One have to eat Natto or other fermeticed foods for that purpose.. and then.. how come that our ancestors in Africa did survived whitout any Natto.. or even Inuits!

    I can tells as much as that.. its very dificult to get a K-vitamine defiency!

    There are probably some problems whit converting it to the right MK source of K-vitamine, that can be a problem!

    Reply: #20
  16. Sabine
    This makes sense.
    Not only Vitamin D matters, not only Vitamin D production depends on sun exposure.

    You may be interested in reading about Cholestrolsulfate: http://cindy-on-health.blogspot.ca/2012/03/cholesterol-sulfate-and-su...

    Stephanie Senneff also wrote some articles and gave some interviews on the subject.

  17. Deneen
    This little talk can answer your questions on K2.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jPWCJxyHAg4

    (and if you don't eat many grass fed animal products, you certainly can be K deficient.)

  18. Bret
    I'm not anticipating anything especially drastic from the bigger D study. There are no magic pills or bullets. And no magic micronutrients. Nothing exists in a vacuum.

    The only free lunch in this game is to eat a diet rich in natural foods that are high in many vitamins and minerals and abstain as much as possible from processed, refined foods. Prioritizing high-quality fats and minimizing high-carbohydrate items is an important part of this process of course.

    The rest is just background noise.

  19. Francois
    Maybe a word of caution. I'll side with FrankG in stating that a natural diet is the best. Vitamin D is available in fatty foods of animal origin - naturally! I'd be cautious with "very high" doses of vitamin D. As any fat-soluble vitamin (A,D, E and K), it can accumulate in fat and can reach toxic levels. The second point - and this goes back to FrankG's point, is that real natural food contains a number of substances - vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and more - that work synergistically. To add a vitamin D supplement at whatever dose on a crappy diet cannot and will not yield the same results as eating wholesome foods. To add some vitamin D over an excellent diet MAY give interesting results, as stated in the anecdotal - and fascinating - posts above.

    Go real food!

  20. murray
    Zepp, K2 (menaquinone) is not in almost every food. K1 (phylloquinone) is in plants. Bacteria convert K1 into K2. However, the human gut has evolved to have a much smaller large bowel for fermentation than other apes, such as gorillas, for example. We have, in effect, outsourced our production of adequate K2 to the ruminants we eat. The ancients understood implicitly the importance of supplementing K2, which Weston Price observed and called activator X,. They made sure couples before marrying (i.e., conceiving) had liver or dairy from ruminants feeding on fast-growing grass, which are especially rich in vitamin K2. A regular diet is generally inadequate in K2, even a real food hunter-gatherer diet eating grass-fed ruminants. Almost everyone these days is K2 deficient. Among other things, k2 works synergystically with D3 and retinol (real animal vitamin A, not plant vitamin A) to activate the enzyme that moves calcium out of soft tissue and into bones and teeth. Anyone who has calcification of arteries at all or reduced bone density is almost surely vitamin K2 deficient. Vitamin K2 supplementation is one of the few supplements I have actually noticed a difference. Within a few weeks after starting (2x100 mcg MK-7 daily), my flexibility increased remarkably (touching my toes I increased suddenly to be able to put my head between my knees) and my teeth improved. My dentist noticed my teeth had become rock hard, that cracking in my 6-year molar reversed and I no longer needed a crown, a cavity had healed itself and I stopped getting any calculus on teeth. I was already on a total real food diet, including cod liver oil, lots of vitamin K1 rich greens, fermented raw milk cheese, etc. The only variable I can identify for the changes was adding vitamin K2 and magnesium supplements. The changes I experienced are also consistent with the explanation of the biochemistry in Dr. Rheaume's book, Vitamin K2 and the Calcium paradox. I note Dr. Davis's Track Your Plaque clinic identifies the importance of vitamin K2 for decalcification of arteries. As a result of all this, I work closely with the owner of a cheese and cultured butter-making dairy to source milk and and with my butcher to source organ meats, all from ruminants on fast-growing grass. I am always discussing the weather and how lush the grass is with my dairywoman. When the grass is just right, I make sure I get lots and lots of cultured butter made from that week's milk. (I have some 30 pounds in the freezer from the autumn rainy season and the post-summer fast-growing grass.) The ancients understood from observation and experience that they needed to do this, just to get adequate vitamin K2 for their own health and healthier offspring.
    Reply: #21
  21. Zepp
    I dont have any other opinion then you.. and there are several considerations to do!

    And ofcourse.. if one have problems linked to K2 defiency.. its a K2 defiency!

    But on the other hand.. I altso listen to those how know more then I do.. and they dont realy know.. its to new to say anything for sure.. thats for sure!!

    And this MK7 says to be very good for at least Japanes women.. how eats Natto.. but then.. our body produce MK4.. that altso have its benefits.. and it is strange.. if we would be dependant of fermentaised soy beans for our healt.. its uterly strange.. it doesent get stuck in my mind!

    In @17 is a seminar that point at what we know now, and I have the same opinion as he.. he know such thing better then me.. we is in the start of knowing different K2 vitamines!

    And if somebody like to try.. use Price fomula, or as mush grassfeed products you can.. or a suplement whit different K2.. like this!

    http://www.lef.org/Vitamins-Supplements/Item01724/Super-K-with-Advanc...

    Reply: #25
  22. Robert Manning
    While not an expert in these matters, I would want the matter of supplements considered in this report. I had understood that some scientific evidence exists to question the efficacy of 'pure' supplements, since other elements are needed to ensure adequate absorption.

    Secondly, without examining the scientific study in detail, are the authors effectively questioning the value of Vitamin D in health?

    A more interesting study would be to conduct a comparative study of the health of lifelong naturists and non-naturists.

    Reply: #23
  23. Sabine
    As I understood it, the benefits of taking Vitamin D3 supplements were not as great as expected.
    This makes sense, as the supplement is not the same thing people get from sun exposure. In addition, people get other related and unrelated benefits from sun exposure. There are other chemicals and hormones that matter, influenced by sun exposure, some of them intricately linked to Vitamin D3.
  24. Zepp
    Its probably good for those whit defiancys.. but those probably altso have other defiancys that one need to get suplemeted for full benefits!

    It seams that its A, K2 and D3 thats works together!

    Listen to the speach in @17!

  25. Kjell Granelli
    I agree that being dependent on fermented soy beans sounds unreasonable. So it must be a coincidence that this Japanese dish just happens to be so effective when it comes to supplying K2. Over the millions of years preceding our generation, surely we have received the bulk of our K2 from grass fed animals.
  26. murray
    This study that hit the news yesterday is interesting. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature12960.html

    It suggests that lighter pigment in Europeans developed in response to nutrient deficiency (including shortage of vitamin D) caused by increasing the level of grains and other starches in the European diet. It may help explain why the Inuit, Cree and other Amerinds did not develop lighter pigmentation despite living in high latitudes: they had little grain, starch or fruit, and so no vitamin D deficiency.

    One might call a high-starch diet a Darwin Diet. Don't be the next recipient of a Darwin Award for Diet.

  27. Jim
    My doctor put me on paleo, and made sure that I eat natural vitamin D (i.e. salmon), but also told me to supplement as well. He said take 5,000 IU in the summer/spring, 8,000 in the winter. And of course, get plenty of sunlight.
  28. Mae
    Well, considering the Vitamin D Council says your body can make between 10,000 and 25,000 IU in a short time outside daily during the time of year that your body can make Vitamin D with sun exposure (and that the critical time to make this Vitamin D is between 10 am and 2 pm), supplementing with less would seem to be pointless. However, with doses over 10,000 IU some studies have shown that you must also supplement with K2 to allow the D3 to work properly.

    It would be more interesting to note why we have been told over the past 30 years to cover up, wear a hat, and wear sunscreen to avoid the suns rays? Another reason to believe the the government does not have our best interests at heart when giving us information. Big pharma makes a lot of money on sunscreen not to mention the number of health problems that crop up when a person becomes deficient in a key nutrient.

  29. Bill Millan
    All of these studies are based on low dose setups, 400 to 600 IU supplements. You get results when you go by OH25 D3 levels, getting the level "over 60." Dr William Davis of "Wheatbelly" fame found this out ten years ago in his Cardiology practice. It takes a 5000IU capsule of D3 daily for most people to get their levels this high. Some take even more.
  30. Jennifer
    I would not be at all surprised if the link to low Vit D is r/t to not enough saturated fat in the western diet
  31. Di
    Here is a thorough analysis by Dr Mercola on the results of this latest attack on Vitamin D supplementation:

    http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/02/17/vitamin...

  32. Di
    The Vitamin D Council has published their response to this review on Vitamin D and they are still recommending supplementing with 5000 IU a day unless you are out in the sun all day every day.

    http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/blog/what-are-systematic-reviews-and-a...

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