Vitamin D: Healer or Health Hazard?

Is vitamin D dangerous?

Get ready for a mainstream media headline proclaiming that vitamin D causes fractures.

Yup, you read that right. Causes, not prevents.

Is it true?

Well, no.

Let’s go to the videotape.

Vitamin D is the new superstar of nutrients, having been found in recent years to be associated with lower rates of cancer, increased physical performance and strength in older adults, improved mood and stronger bones.People with low levels of vitamin D- which includes virtually 80 percent of the US population- have greater risk of death from all causes, meaning they are just more likely to die for any reason at all than those with optimal levels. Vitamin D levels even predict how well you’ll do on a weight loss program—folks with low levels do less well losing weight than those with optimal levels. (About the only thing vitamin D hasn’t been shown to do is fix the economy!)

So what’s the deal with this latest headline?

Well, docs realized some time ago that among the older population, compliance with pill-taking schedules is- well, less than terrific. And they also realized that vitamin D was incredibly important. They wanted to see if there might be a better way for this at-risk population (over 70) to get their vitamin D without having to take a daily pill or two.

So Kerrie M. Sanders, Ph.D., of the University of Melbourne, Geelong, Australia and colleagues conducted a study to examine whether high-dose cholecalciferol (vitamin D) given by injection once a year to older women would reduce falls and fractures.

The dose they injected? Five hundred thousand IUs.

Think about that for a second. That’s a half a million IUs of vitamin D, a dose the docs apparently considered safe. (To put it in context, I recommend between 2,000 IUs and 6,000 IUs on a daily basis).

And yes, for some reason not fully understood, the women getting this massive injection had slightly more falls and fractures than the control group (about 15% more).

But this dosing (and the delivery system of injection) bears absolutely no resemblance to the way people normally take vitamin D supplements. And in fact, two previous studies using 300,000 IUs intramuscularly injected 4 times a year had the opposite findings- fractures were reduced.

So clearly there’s something about the massive dose or scheduling (500,000 1x a year vs 300,000 IUs 4x a year) that accounts for this weird finding. The point is it has absolutely no bearing or relevance to people like you and me taking daily oral doses of this incredibly important, essential vitamin that protects bones, improves mood, increases strength, protects against diseases, helps with weight loss and may even help protect against death from any cause.

My recommendation to supplement with 2,000-6,000 IUs a day hasn’t changed a bit. Vitamin D is one of the most important supplements to take on a daily basis. And it’s inexpensive, and easy to take in either a tiny gel or the new emulsified liquid form in which one single drop (added to any drink or taken orally) provides 2,000 IUs!