Vitamin D: Its role in disease prevention


Evidence that vitamin D reduces the risk of many types of disease is increasing exponentially. In 2011, 3,100 publications with “vitamin D” in the title or abstract were published, up from 2,606 in 2010, 1,303 in 2005, and 796 in 2000. A committee operating under the auspices of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the US National Academies reviewed the evidence for beneficial effects of vitamin D. Their report, issued at the end of 2010,1 found what they considered to be strong evidence for only one health outcome: skeletal health. They considered beneficial evidence only from published randomized controlled trials (RCTs) focused mainly on skeletal health. In contrast, to justify concern about higher vitamin D intake and serum 25(OH)D concentrations, they used data from nested case-control studies reporting U-shaped outcomes of prediagnostic serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] for cancer and all-cause mortality rates. They set the daily recommended intake of vitamin D at 600–800 IU for most children and adults and defined vitamin D sufficiency as a serum 25(OH)D level above 20 ng/ml (50 nmol/l). They also set a daily upper intake of 4,000 IU of vitamin D3 and called for more RCTs to determine nonskeletal health effects. As of this writing, more than 130 journal publications have criticized the IOM report as being too conservative. One summarized the problems succinctly: “The IOM recommendations for vitamin D fail in a major way on logic, on science, and on effective public health guidance. Moreover, by failing to use a physiological referent, the IOM approach constitutes precisely the wrong model for development of nutritional policy.”2

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Vitamin D: Its role in disease prevention