Institute of Medicine says megadoses of vitamin D, calcium unnecessary

In a front-page article, the New York Times says, “The very high levels of vitamin D and calcium that are often recommended by doctors and testing laboratories – and can be achieved only by taking supplements – are unnecessary and could be harmful, an expert committee says” in a low-awaited report.

The “group said most people have adequate amounts of vitamin D in their blood supplied by their diets and natural sources like sunshine.” Dr. Clifford J. Rosen, “a member of the panel and an osteoporosis expert at the Maine Medical Center Research Institute,” said, “For most people, taking extra calcium and vitamin D supplements is not indicated.”

The AP reports, “Long-awaited new dietary guidelines say there’s no proof that megadoses prevent cancer or other ailments – sure to frustrate backers of the so-called sunshine vitamin.”

This “decision by the prestigious Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, could put some brakes on the nation’s vitamin D craze, warning that super-high levels could be risky.”

Notably, “a National Cancer Institute study last summer was the latest to report no cancer protection from vitamin D and the possibility of an increased risk of pancreatic cancer in people with the very highest D levels. Super-high doses – above 10,000 IUs a day – are known to cause kidney damage, and the report sets 4,000 IUs as an upper daily limit – but not the amount people should strive for.”

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the committee members disagreed with previous findings that Americans and Canadians do not consume sufficient vitamin D, and instead suggested that a blood level of 20 nanograms/ml was adequate.

This suggestion contradicts groups such as the Endocrine Society and the International Osteoporsis Foundation, which have recommended 30 ng/ml for good bone health — and is what I recommend for my patients.

Meanwhile, the NIH has begun to recruit participants for a large study that will compare the impact on health of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish oil.

USA Today reports, “According to the report, children and adults younger than 71 need no more than 600 international units (IUs) of vitamin D a day and should consume 700 to 1,300 milligrams of calcium a day, depending on their age.”

Indeed, the “committee was surprised to see that most Americans are meeting their needs for both of the nutrients, except for adolescent girls who may not be getting enough calcium and some elderly people who don’t get enough of either, says Catharine Ross, professor of nutrition at Pennsylvania State University and chairwoman of the panel that prepared the report.”

Still, Time points out, “Those 71 years or older … may need more vitamin D, up to 800 IU a day, to combat deteriorating bone,” the group said.

Due to “the lack of sufficient data to date, advice on vitamin D up to this point was not considered as a recommended dietary allowance, which is based on stronger scientific evidence, but rather an adequate intake suggestion, and stood at anywhere from 200 IU to 400 IU for adults.”

Notably, the “new recommendations are based on data from more than 1,000 studies, most of which included trials in which volunteers were randomly assigned to receive either vitamin or calcium supplements or a placebo, after which their health outcomes were compared to one another.”

The Washington Post “The Checkup” blog says, “The United States and Canada asked the Institute of Medicine, which is part of the National Academy of Sciences, to update the official vitamin D recommendations for the first time since 1997.”

You read more about my application of this report in my blog, “My Take on the new Vitamin D and Calcium Recommendations.”

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