By Laurel Sterling, MA, RD, CDN
On October 6, 2018, CNN posted an article with the headline: Vitamin D supplements don’t improve bone health, major study finds. Here we go again, with another confusing article. It stated, “Vitamin D supplements do not improve bone mineral density or prevent fractures or falls in adults, finds a large study that advises health professionals to stop recommending the supplements to most patients.”
The article further went on to say, “The research, which was published in the Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, analyzed data from 81 randomized controlled trials (involving more than 53,000 people) that studied whether the over-the-counter supplement helped in fractures, falls, and bone density. The team concluded that vitamin D does not prevent fractures or falls, or have a meaningful effect on bone mineral density, concluding that there is little justification in taking it to "maintain or improve musculoskeletal health," adding that there is no need for more trials to explore this.
We see this a lot, where newer findings prove or disprove prior research; but saying there is no need to explore this more is quite a strong statement. What we as consumers need to do is dig deeper into the study. Who is funding the research? Was the study large enough? Did they use a poorly absorbable form? Were the individuals too ill to see a benefit? Were they using enough of the supplement to see a benefit? What was the length of the study? This one in particular looked at 81 studies that they chose, and we don’t know which ones or the lengths of those studies.
Dr. Robert Clarke, a professor of epidemiology and public health at the University of Oxford criticized this study saying, “The report included all available trials of vitamin D, but such trials included too few participants, used an insufficient dose of vitamin D, and had an insufficient duration of treatment.” These are all crucial variables used as reliability and validity tests in research. “So, it is too soon to suggest making changes to health recommendations on vitamin D for bone health based on this study," he went on to say.
Research has found that vitamin D promotes healthy growth and development; supports teeth, bone, and muscle health; assists with healthy immune and cardiovascular systems; and aids in a healthier mood. When it comes to bone building, the bone matrix is very complex. It’s comprised of calcium, collagen fibers, inorganic salts, and many minerals. Vitamin D3 is important for calcium transport and absorption. Another very important vitamin in the bone building process is vitamin K2 as MK-7.
It’s critical for the formation of a strong bone matrix, as it plays a main part in carboxylating and activating specific proteins (matric GLA and osteocalcin) that are involved in bone building. These vitamins work synergistically along with other minerals and calcium, in assisting in the bone building process. The scientific research is ever increasing regarding vitamin D and the crucial role it plays in our overall health and wellbeing also. Contrary to what was mentioned in the article, just search PubMed or The Vitamin D Counsel’s website to see all of the research and benefits of vitamin D.
It was also mentioned at the end that “Dr. Clifford Rosen, professor of medicine at the Tufts University School of Medicine and senior scientist at Maine Medical Center, told CNN in a previous report, that it's generally better to get vitamin D from the sun and food than from supplements.” Although the body can produce vitamin D when ultraviolet rays hit the skin, which triggers vitamin D synthesis, conditions need to be near perfect for this to happen.
Many children like adults do not get enough time in the sun during certain crucial times of the year to make and maintain adequate 25(OH)D levels. The 25(OH)D is the form of D that is tested in the bloodstream. It’s the serum form of vitamin D, and the best indicator of vitamin D status. In addition to lack of time in the sun, it is also difficult to synthesize adequate amounts of vitamin D from sunlight due to sunscreens, latitude, time of year, color of skin, and more.
As far as sourcing vitamin D from our foods, there are not many naturally occurring dietary sources of vitamin D. Vitamin D can be found in the flesh of fatty fish like salmon (approximately 500 IU in 3 oz), mackerel, and tuna. It’s also in fish liver oils, as the D3 form. Some mushrooms provide the D2 form, which still needs to be converted by the body to the most bioavailable D3 form. Most of the dietary vitamin D comes from fortified foods such as orange juice, non-dairy beverages, egg yolks (from vitamin D supplemented hens), and in some dairy (milk, yogurt, and cheese). Therefore, many look to supplemental vitamin D as an excellent addition.
This article proves that we as consumers nowadays, perhaps more than ever, need to be our own investigators and not believe everything just because it is printed. We need to dig deeper than face value and look at all the information in order to make informed decisions.
The Daily Dose blog features health and wellness articles from Senior Nutritionist & Educator Jolie Root, LPN,LNC; Nutritionist & Educator Laurel Sterling, MA, RDN, CDN; and Featured Guest Blogger Karen Roth, MSNC. Other guest bloggers will also join us.
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