According to popular opinions coming from friends, family, and physicians, most people are vitamin D deficient and in need of supplementation with pills. Evidence suggests that more than 40% of the worlds population is vitamin D deficient (1). A recent report from a Scottish doctor found only 2% of his patients had a sufficient vitamin D concentration (75 nmol/L or above), and 47% had a severe deficiency (below 25 nmol/L) (2). Low vitamin D levels found in the blood are a clear indication that there is a worldwide problem of sunlight deficiency. Rather than correct the problem and encourage people to expose themselves to more of this natural element, the solution has become another druga supplement pill sold as vitamin D.
According to the authors of a landmark editorial just published in the March 2, 2010 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, Despite the promise for disease prevention suggested by available studies, we believe that the evidence for widespread use of high-dose vitamin D supplementation in the general population remains insufficient (3). Even though the supplements translate into higher levels of vitamin D in the blood, expected benefits of reductions in the occurrences of common diseases are lacking.
Recent vitamin frenzies over the recommendations for the widespread use of antioxidants, folic acid, vitamin E, and beta-carotene provide lessons about vitamin supplements that must not be forgotten. When the proper research was finally done, the results backfired. More heart disease, cancer, and overall death were discovered in those taking these isolated concentrated nutrients (4-9). Each of the above nutrients is originally found in edible plants. In these perfect packages these nutrients provide for excellent health, prevent and cure diseases, and prolong life.
When consumed as isolated concentrated nutrients wrapped in a pill-casing, vitamin D supplements cause nutritional imbalances, which leads to metabolic sicknesses. At dosages considered safe, an increase in bad LDL-cholesterol, prostate cancer, immune system suppression, autoimmune diseases, gastrointestinal symptoms, kidney disease, and calcium stones has been observed (10-16). The adverse effects of vitamin D therapy are understudied, underestimated, and underreported.
Confounding Factors Inflate the Benefits of Vitamin D
A serious metabolic and bone disease, known as rickets, is the classic example of the consequences of prolonged sunlight deficiency. Ultraviolet light in the spectrum of the sun and vitamin D supplements will cure this condition. No one argues about this.
Recently, low vitamin D status has been associated with many other illnesses, such as heart disease, strokes, type-2 diabetes, common cancers (breast, prostate, and colon), and multiple sclerosis. The original evidence for this connection is the observation that people who live farther away from the Equator (north and south) experience a greater risk of developing these common diseases. This risk is blamed on a lessening of the amount of sunshine received annually by various populations. But a crucial oversight is made: as people move further away from the Equator they eat fewer plant foods and more animal foods. Sunshine plays a big part in overall health, but a small part in the prevention of common Western diseases. Its the food!
Researchers are further confused by confounding factors, such as: people with higher vitamin D status are in general of a young age, normal body weight, and live a healthy lifestyle (17). Lower vitamin D status is associated with smoking, parental history of myocardial infarction, alcohol intake and suffering with chronic illnesses (17). Health-conscious people are more likely to consume vitamin D fortified low-fat milk and fish (a vitamin D source), as opposed to soft drinks and junk foods, favorites of unhealthy people. (Yes, neither milk nor fish is a healthy food, but they serve as markers of people who have better habits.)
The Benefits from Pills Remain Unproven
Even though there is an association between lower vitamin D status and heart disease, strokes, type-2 diabetes, common cancers (breast, prostate, and colon), and multiple sclerosis, treatments with supplements have not been shown to be effective for these conditions (17-19). The benefits for bone fracture prevention are small and largely restricted to institutionalized elderly women and to studies that use a combination of vitamin D and calcium, not vitamin D alone (17,19).