The Man Who Sold America on Vitamin D

By Liz Szabo, Kaiser Health News

Dr. Michael Holick’s enthusiasm for vitamin D can be fairly described as extreme.

The Boston University endocrinologist, who perhaps more than anyone else is responsible for creating a billion-dollar vitamin D sales and testing juggernaut, elevates his own levels of the stuff with supplements and fortified milk. When he bikes outdoors, he won’t put sunscreen on his limbs. He has written book-length odes to vitamin D, and has warned in multiple scholarly articles about a “vitamin D deficiency pandemic” that explains disease and suboptimal health across the world.

His fixation is so intense that it extends to the dinosaurs. What if the real problem with that asteroid 65 million years ago wasn’t a lack of food, but the weak bones that follow a lack of sunlight? “I sometimes wonder,” Holick has written, “did the dinosaurs die of rickets and osteomalacia?”

Holick’s role in drafting national vitamin D guidelines, and the embrace of his message by mainstream doctors and wellness gurus alike, have helped push supplement sales to $936 million in 2017. That’s a ninefold increase over the previous decade. Lab tests for vitamin D deficiency have spiked, too: Doctors ordered more than 10 million for Medicare patients in 2016, up 547 percent since 2007, at a cost of $365 million. About 1 in 4 adults 60 and older now take vitamin D supplements.

But few of the Americans swept up in the vitamin D craze are likely aware that the industry has sent a lot of money Holick’s way.

A Kaiser Health News investigation found that he has used his prominent position in the medical community to promote practices that financially benefit corporations that have given him hundreds of thousands of dollars — including drugmakers, the indoor-tanning industry and one of the country’s largest commercial labs.

In an interview, Holick acknowledged he has worked as a consultant to Quest Diagnostics, which performs vitamin D tests, since 1979.

Holick, who is 72, said that industry funding “doesn’t influence me in terms of talking about the health benefits of vitamin D.”

DR. MICHAEL HOLICK

DR. MICHAEL HOLICK

There is no question that the hormone is important. Without enough of it, bones can become thin, brittle and misshapen, causing a condition called rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. The issue is how much vitamin D is healthy, and what level constitutes deficiency.

Windfall for Vitamin D Industry

Holick’s crucial role in shaping that debate occurred in 2011. Late the previous year, the prestigious National Academy of Medicine (then known as the Institute of Medicine), a group of independent scientific experts, issued a comprehensive, 1,132-page report on vitamin D deficiency. It concluded that the vast majority of Americans get plenty of the hormone through diet and sunlight, and advised doctors to test only patients at high risk of vitamin D-related disorders, such as osteoporosis.

A few months later, in June 2011, Holick oversaw the publication of a report that took a starkly different view. The paper, in the peer-reviewed Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, was on behalf of the Endocrine Society, the field’s foremost professional group, whose guidelines are widely used by hospitals, physicians and commercial labs nationwide, including Quest. The society adopted Holick’s position that “vitamin D deficiency is very common in all age groups” and advocated a huge expansion of vitamin D testing, targeting more than half the United States population, including those who are black, Hispanic or obese — groups that tend to have lower vitamin D levels than others.

The recommendations were a financial windfall for the vitamin D industry. By advocating such widespread testing, the Endocrine Society directed more business to Quest and other commercial labs. Vitamin D tests are now the fifth-most-common lab test covered by Medicare.

The guidelines benefited the vitamin D industry in another important way. Unlike the National Academy, which concluded that patients have sufficient vitamin D when their blood levels are at or above 20 nanograms per milliliter, the Endocrine Society said vitamin D levels need to be much higher — at least 30 nanograms per milliliter. Many commercial labs, including Quest and LabCorp, adopted the higher standard.

Yet there’s no evidence that people with the higher level are any healthier than those with the lower level, said Dr. Clifford Rosen, a senior scientist at the Maine Medical Center Research Institute and co-author of the National Academy report. Using the Endocrine Society’s higher standard creates the appearance of an epidemic, he said, because it labels 80 percent of Americans as having inadequate vitamin D.

“We see people being tested all the time and being treated based on a lot of wishful thinking, that you can take a supplement to be healthier,” Rosen said.

Patients with low vitamin D levels are often prescribed supplements and instructed to get checked again in a few months, said Dr. Alex Krist, a family physician and vice chairman of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an expert panel that issues health advice. Many physicians then repeat the test once a year. For labs, “it’s in their financial interest” to label patients with low vitamin D levels, Krist said.

In a 2010 book, “The Vitamin D Solution,” Holick gave readers tips to encourage them to get their blood tested. For readers worried about potential out-of-pocket costs for vitamin D tests — they range from $40 to $225 — Holick listed the precise reimbursement codes that doctors should use when requesting insurance coverage.

“If they use the wrong coding when submitting the claim to the insurance company, they won’t get reimbursed and you will wind up having to pay for the test,” Holick wrote.

Holick acknowledged financial ties with Quest and other companies in the financial disclosure statement published with the Endocrine Society guidelines. In an interview, he said that working for Quest for four decades — he is currently paid $1,000 a month — hasn’t affected his medical advice. “I don’t get any additional money if they sell one test or 1 billion,” Holick said.

A Quest spokeswoman, Wendy Bost, said the company seeks the advice of a number of expert consultants. “We feel strongly that being able to work with the top experts in the field, whether it’s vitamin D or another area, translates to better quality and better information, both for our patients and physicians,” Bost said.

Since 2011, Holick’s advocacy has been embraced by the wellness-industrial complex. Gwyneth Paltrow’s website, Goop, cites his writing. Dr. Mehmet Oz has described vitamin D as “the No. 1 thing you need more of,” telling his audience that it can help them avoid heart disease, depression, weight gain, memory loss and cancer. And Oprah Winfrey’s website tells readers that “knowing your vitamin D levels might save your life.” Mainstream doctors have pushed the hormone, including Dr. Walter Willett, a widely respected professor at Harvard Medical School.

Today, seven years after the dueling academic findings, the leaders of the National Academy report are struggling to be heard above the clamor for more sunshine pills.

“There isn’t a ‘pandemic,’” A. Catharine Ross, a professor at Penn State and chair of the committee that wrote the report, said in an interview. “There isn’t a widespread problem.”

Ties to Drugmakers and Tanning Salons

In “The Vitamin D Solution,” Holick describes his promotion of vitamin D as a lonely crusade. “Drug companies can sell fear,” he writes, “but they can’t sell sunlight, so there’s no promotion of the sun’s health benefits.”

Yet Holick also has extensive financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry. He received nearly $163,000 from 2013 to 2017 from pharmaceutical companies, according to Medicare’s Open Payments database, which tracks payments from drug and device manufacturers. The companies paying him included Sanofi-Aventis, which markets vitamin D supplements; Shire, which makes drugs for hormonal disorders that are given with vitamin D; Amgen, which makes an osteoporosis treatment; and Roche Diagnostics and Quidel Corp., which both make vitamin D tests.

The database includes only payments made since 2013, but Holick’s record of being compensated by drug companies started before that. In his 2010 book, he describes visiting South Africa to give “talks for a pharmaceutical company,” whose president and chief executive were in the audience.

Holick’s ties to the tanning industry also have drawn scrutiny. Although Holick said he doesn’t advocate tanning, he has described tanning beds as a “recommended source” of vitamin D “when used in moderation.”

Holick has acknowledged accepting research money from the UV Foundation — a nonprofit arm of the now-defunct Indoor Tanning Association — which gave $150,000 to Boston University from 2004 to 2006, earmarked for Holick’s research. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classified tanning beds as carcinogenic in 2009.

In 2004, the tanning-industry associations led Dr. Barbara Gilchrest, who then was head of Boston University’s dermatology department, to ask Holick to resign from the department. He did so, but remains a professor at the medical school’s department of endocrinology, diabetes and nutrition and weight management.

In “The Vitamin D Solution,” Holick wrote that he was “forced” to give up his position due to his “stalwart support of sensible sun exposure.” He added, “Shame on me for challenging one of the dogmas of dermatology.”

Although Holick’s website lists him as a member of the American Academy of Dermatology, an academy spokeswoman, Amanda Jacobs, said he was not a current member.

Dr. Christopher McCartney, chairman of the Endocrine Society’s clinical guidelines subcommittee, said the society has put in place stricter policies on conflict of interest since its vitamin D guidelines were released. The society’s current policies would not allow the chairman of the guideline-writing committee to have financial conflicts.

A Miracle Pill Loses Its Luster

Enthusiasm for vitamin D among medical experts has dimmed in recent years, as rigorous clinical trials have failed to confirm the benefits suggested by early, preliminary studies. A string of trials found no evidence that vitamin D reduces the risk of cancer, heart disease or falls in the elderly. And most scientists say there isn’t enough evidence to know if vitamin D can prevent chronic diseases that aren’t related to bones.

Although the amount of vitamin D in a typical daily supplement is generally considered safe, it is possible to take too much. In 2015, an article in the American Journal of Medicine linked blood levels as low as 50 nanograms per milliliter with an increased risk of death.

Some researchers say vitamin D may never have been the miracle pill that it appeared to be. Sick people who stay indoors tend to have low vitamin D levels; their poor health is likely the cause of their low vitamin D levels, not the other way around, said Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Vitamins2.jpg

Only really rigorous studies, which randomly assign some patients to take vitamin D and others to take placebos, can provide definitive answers about vitamin D and health. Manson is leading one such study, involving 26,000 adults, expected to be published in November.

A number of insurers and health experts have begun to view widespread vitamin D testing as unnecessary and expensive. In 2014, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said there wasn’t enough evidence to recommend for or against routine vitamin D screening. In April, the task force explicitly recommended that older adults outside of nursing homes avoid taking vitamin D supplements to prevent falls.

In 2015, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield published an analysis highlighting the overuse of vitamin D tests. In 2014, the insurer spent $33 million on 641,000 vitamin D tests. “That’s an astronomical amount of money,” said Dr. Richard Lockwood, Excellus’ vice president and chief medical officer for utilization management. More than 40 percent of Excellus patients tested had no medical reason to be screened.

In spite of Excellus’ efforts to rein in the tests, vitamin D usage has remained high, Lockwood said. “It’s very hard to change habits,” he said, adding: “The medical community is not much different than the rest of the world, and we get into fads.”

Kaiser Health News coverage related to aging and improving care of older adults is supported in part by The John A. Hartford Foundation. KHN is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

Vitamin D Supplements Could Ease Symptoms of IBS

By Pat Anson, Editor

A new study suggests that Vitamin D supplements may help ease stomach cramps, constipation and other painful symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

In a systematic review (a study of studies) involving hundreds of patients around the world, British researchers found that over half the patients with IBS had low levels of Vitamin D in their blood serum. Vitamin D supplements helped improve symptoms for some patients, although the findings were mixed.

"The available evidence suggests that low vitamin D status is common among the IBS population and merits assessment and rectification for general health reasons alone,” said Claire Williams of the University of Sheffield, lead author of the study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

"An inverse correlation between serum vitamin D and IBS symptom severity is suggested and vitamin D interventions may benefit symptoms."

bigstock-Woman-Suffering-From-Stomach-A-64913737.jpg

Williams and her colleagues cautioned that the evidence was not strong that supplements would help, and said larger studies were needed to build a case for Vitamin D as a treatment for IBS.

Britain’s National Health Service was also cautious about the findings.

“Although this possible link is worth investigating further, the evidence is currently very limited. The results seen in this study are an extremely mixed bag taken from studies of questionable quality," the NHS said in a review.

“The observational studies mainly just show that a number of these people with IBS also had a vitamin D deficiency. But you could select many other samples of people with IBS and find they have sufficient vitamin D levels, or other people who don't have IBS but who are vitamin D deficient.”

Both IBS and vitamin D deficiency are common in the western world. About 20% of adults in the UK are deficient in Vitamin D. Low levels of the “sunshine vitamin” have also been linked to fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis

Most people get all the Vitamin D they need by being exposed to ultraviolet rays in sunlight. You can also get it by eating foods rich in Vitamin D, such as oily fish and eggs. Vitamin D has a wide range of positive health effects, such as strengthening bones and inhibiting the growth of some cancers.

Vitamin D Levels May Help Predict Risk of MS

By Pat Anson, Editor

Vitamin D levels in the blood may help predict whether a person is at risk of developing multiple sclerosis, according to a large new study published online in the journal Neurology.

The findings provide the best evidence to date that low levels of Vitamin D may be a contributing factor to multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic and incurable disease which attacks the central nervous system.

“There have only been a few small studies suggesting that levels of vitamin D in the blood can predict risk,” said study author Kassandra Munger, ScD, of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston. “Our study, involving a large number of women, suggests that correcting vitamin D deficiency in young and middle-age women may reduce their future risk of MS.”

bigstock-Tablet-with-the-diagnosis-mult-62746568.jpg

Munger and her colleagues analyzed a database derived from blood samples taken during prenatal testing of over 800,000 Finnish women. Using hospital and prescription records, they were able to identify 1,092 of those women who were later diagnosed with MS. They were compared to a control group of 2,123 women who did not develop the disease.

Of the women who developed MS, 58% had deficient blood levels of vitamin D, compared to 52% of the women who did not develop the disease.

Deficient blood levels of vitamin D were defined as fewer than 30 nanomoles per liter (nmol/L). Insufficient levels were 30 to 49 nmol/L and adequate levels were 50 nmol/L or higher.

Researchers found that with each 50 nmol/L increase in vitamin D in the blood, the risk of developing MS later in life decreased by 39 percent. In addition, women who had deficient levels had a 43% higher risk of developing MS than women who had adequate levels.

“More research is needed on the optimal dose of vitamin D for reducing risk of MS,” said Munger. “But striving to achieve vitamin D sufficiency over the course of a person’s life will likely have multiple health benefits.

"Our results further support and extend those of previous prospective studies of (Vitamin D) levels in
young adults and risk of MS, and suggests that many individuals are exposed to an increased MS risk that
could be reduced by broad population-based programs to prevent vitamin D deficiency."

Participants in the study were primarily white women, so the findings may not be the same for other racial groups or men. Also, while the blood samples were taken an average of nine years before MS diagnosis, it is possible some women may have already had MS when their blood was drawn and were not yet showing symptoms of the disease.

MS causes numbness in the limbs, difficulty walking, paralysis, loss of vision, fatigue and pain. Symptoms begin with a series of irregular relapses, and after about 20 years MS worsens into a secondary progressive stage of the disease.

Low blood levels of vitamin D – known as the “sunshine vitamin”-- have previously been linked to an increased risk of developing MS. Danish researchers found that MS patients who spent time in the sun every day during the summer as teenagers developed the disease later in life than those who spent their summers indoors.

Ultraviolet rays in sunlight are a principal source of Vitamin D, which has a wide range of positive health effects, such as strengthening bones and inhibiting the growth of some cancers.

Can Vitamin D and Good Sleep Reduce Pain?

By Pat Anson, Editor

Vitamin D supplements, along with good sleeping habits, could help manage chronic pain from fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, back pain and other conditions, according to a new study.

The importance of vitamin D – the “sunshine vitamin” – in maintaining bone strength and overall health has long been known.  But recent research has focused on the role it plays in inflammation, musculoskeletal pain and sleep disorders.

“Vitamin D status seems to have an important role in the bidirectional relationship observed between sleep and pain,” said senior author Dr. Monica Levy Andersen in the Journal of Endocrinology. “We can hypothesize that suitable vitamin D supplementation combined with sleep hygiene may optimize the therapeutic management of pain-related diseases, such as fibromyalgia."

Andersen and her colleagues at Universidade Federal de Sao Paulo in Brazil reviewed 35 clinical studies of vitamin D, and concluded that vitamin D supplements could increase the effectiveness of pain treatments by stimulating an anti-inflammatory response.

"This research is very exciting and novel. We are unraveling the possible mechanisms of how vitamin D is involved in many complex processes, including what this review shows - that a good night's sleep and normal levels of vitamin D could be an effective way to manage pain," said Sof Andrikopoulos, assistant professor at the University of Melbourne and Editor of the Journal of Endocrinology.

Sources of Vitamin D include oily fish and eggs, but it can be difficult to get enough through diet alone. Ultraviolet rays in sunlight are a principal source of Vitamin D for most people.

Several recent studies have found an association between chronic pain and low levels of Vitamin D in the blood.  Researchers at National Taiwan University Hospital found low levels of serum vitamin D in over 1,800 fibromyalgia patients. Danish researchers have also found an association between lack of sunlight and multiple sclerosis.

But some question quality of the studies and whether Vitamin D supplements do any good.

“Evidence does not support vitamin D supplementation for the treatment of multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis or for improving depression/mental well-being,” wrote Michael Allan, a professor of Family Medicine and director of Evidence Based Medicine at the University of Alberta in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Allan says much of the research is of low quality. He doesn’t dispute the overall health benefits of Vitamin D – such as building strong bones and teeth -- but thinks taking supplements is unnecessary and could even be harmful in large doses.

"The 40 year old person is highly unlikely to benefit from vitamin D," said Allan. "And when I say highly unlikely, I mean it's not measurable in present science."

Does Changing Your Diet Help With Fibromyalgia?

By Lana Barhum, Columnist

Having lived with fibromyalgia most of my adult life, I know my diet may worsen or improve my pain and other fibromyalgia symptoms. I am not alone in this belief, but the research disagrees. 

Most studies have not shown any specific evidence that fibromyalgia patients should avoid certain foods or add any to their diets to manage symptoms.  Nonetheless, it is still a good idea to take a look at how some foods influence how you feel.

MSG, Gluten and Vitamin D

At least 42% of fibromyalgia patients have reported worsening symptoms after eating certain foods, according to a study in Clinical Rheumatology.  Other studies on fibromyalgia and diet have focused on food additives, gluten, and vitamin D, and found some evidence that they may affect fibromyalgia pain.  

A 2012 study published in Clinical Experimental Rheumatology, assessed fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) patients who had excluded monosodium glutamate (MSG) and aspartame from their diets.  After four weeks, 84% of the study participants reported their symptoms had improved by about a third.  Adding MSG back into their diets resulted in a return of symptoms.

The researchers concluded that MSG did, in fact, have an adverse effect on some fibromyalgia patients and removing it from their diets was an easy solution.

"This novel research implicates glutamate as a major adverse excitotoxin in some FM (fibromyalgia) patients. Dietary manipulation is a relatively simple and low cost non-pharmacological intervention that warrants further exploration," reported lead author Kathleen  Holton, PhD.

But another study, published in Rheumatology International, found no relationship between MSG and fibromyalgia pain and symptoms.  The researchers reported no symptom improvement in the group that removed MSG and aspartame from their diets and the group that did not.

While there has been little specific evidence pointing to gluten as a fibromyalgia trigger, some research shows patients respond well when they avoid eating gluten.  Spanish researchers reported in Rheumatology International that fibromyalgia patients who removed gluten from their diets showed notable improvements in pain and symptoms.                                                           

There may also be a link between fibromyalgia pain and low levels of vitamin D, according to a 2014 study out of Austria. That research, reported in the journal Pain, found that study participants who took vitamin D supplements experienced less pain and morning fatigue.   

A 2015 report from the journal Pain and Therapy, also makes a case for a link between Vitamin D deficiency and pain. "Significant improvements in assessment of sleep, mood, pain levels, well-being, and various aspects of quality of life with vitamin D supplementation have been shown,” said researchers Elspeth and Edward Shipton.

More research is needed to further determine if diet and fibromyalgia are actually related.  But doctors do agree eating healthy foods can help patients to feel better and tweaking your diet may improve symptoms.

Making Diet Changes

Here are some ways to help you figure out which foods help and which ones hurt.

Keep a Food Journal.  Many people with fibromyalgia have food sensitivities, but specific “trigger” foods will vary from person to person.  A good way to identify which foods worsen fibromyalgia symptoms and pain is to keep a food journal.  If you find your symptoms consistently worsen after eating certain foods, try eliminating those foods from your diet and see if your symptoms improve.

Eat Healthy. It makes sense for everyone to eat healthy, not just people with fibromyalgia.  Eat a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. 

A balanced diet will also give you more energy and improve overall health.

Pick the Right Foods. There are certain foods that may help improve fibromyalgia symptoms and minimize flares.  Vitamin D is one, as studies show deficiency can cause joint and muscle pain.

Vitamin D is one, as studies show deficiency can cause joint and muscle pain. Foods rich in vitamin D include fatty fish (tuna and salmon), dairy products fortified with vitamin D (orange juice, milk, and cereal), beef liver, and egg yolks. Foods containing omega 3 fatty acids, which are found in fatty fish, walnuts and flax seed, may also ease fibromyalgia symptoms by reducing soreness and inflammation.  

My Take

I am strong believer in taking your health into your own hands and experimenting with alternative treatments, including a healthy diet.  Through trial and error, I have figured out which foods help and which foods hurt as I continue to learn how to successfully cope with fibromyalgia. 

Aspartame (Nutrasweet), food additives (especially MSG), sugar, fructose, simple carbohydrates, caffeine, gluten, fried and junk food, dairy and nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes) are all foods that I have either eliminated or minimized from my diet.  Cutting them out of my diet has made fibromyalgia flares less frequent. 

In addition, I take vitamin D supplements, since my levels are often low, and eat foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids, such as fish, walnuts, and eggs, to manage inflammation, as I also suffer from rheumatoid arthritis.

While I don’t know for certain if my diet is the reason for fewer flare-ups, I do know that avoiding certain foods and eating healthy ones benefits my overall health.  And when my body feels healthier, I am better able to cope with fibromyalgia pain and symptoms.

The specific foods that help and hurt will be different for you, but a healthy diet can help you manage fibromyalgia symptoms and pain and improve your health overall.  And, it is definitely worth a try to find out. 

Lana Barhum is a freelance medical writer, patient advocate, legal assistant and mother. Having lived with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia since 2008, Lana uses her experiences to share expert advice on living successfully with chronic illness. She has written for several online health communities, including Alliance Health, Upwell, Mango Health, and The Mighty.

To learn more about Lana, visit her website.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Benefits of 'Sunshine Vitamin' Not So Clear

By Pat Anson, Editor

Maybe Vitamin D isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

We’ve reported on several studies showing that low levels of Vitamin D are linked to a variety of chronic pain conditions, as well as anecdotal reports that taking Vitamin D supplements can relieve pain and make you feel better.

But a Canadian researcher says there is very little evidence that the “sunshine vitamin” does any of that.

"Wouldn't it be great if there was a single thing that you or I could do to be healthy that was as simple as taking a vitamin, which seems benign, every day? There is an appeal to it. There is a simplicity to it. But for the average person, they don't need it," says Michael Allan, a professor of Family Medicine and director of Evidence Based Medicine at the University of Alberta's Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry.

Allan is the lead author of a review published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine that examines the evidence for 10 common beliefs about vitamin D. Those beliefs include the ability of vitamin D to prevent rheumatoid arthritis, treat multiple sclerosis, reduce falls and fractures, and improve depression.

The review found little evidence that Vitamin D supplements have much effect at all.

"Even areas that we really thought there was good evidence for benefit early on, don't seem to be bearing out," says Allan. "It makes it really difficult to determine a lot of time if there is anything substantial there that you could tell a patient, 'You can take this and it can help you this much.' There's really not nearly enough there to say that."

Allan and his colleagues did find evidence that Vitamin D can have an impact in reducing the number of falls and fractures among the elderly. But the effect is minor.

"Many people would say taking a drug for 10 years to stop one in every 50 fractures is probably not enough to be meaningful. And that's the best vitamin D gets as far as we know now," he said.

There have been over 1,600 studies conducted on Vitamin D in the last decade alone, but Allan says much of the research was poorly executed and is of low quality. He doesn’t dispute the overall health benefits of Vitamin D – such as building strong bones and teeth -- but thinks taking supplements is unnecessary and could even be harmful in large doses.

Most people get all the Vitamin D they need by being exposed to ultraviolet rays in sunlight. You can also get it by eating foods rich in Vitamin D, such as oily fish and eggs.

“Evidence does not support vitamin D supplementation for the treatment of multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis or for improving depression/mental well-being. Regular testing of 25-hydroxyvitamin D is generally not required, and mega-doses appear to increase harms,” Allan said. “Much of the evidence is at high risk of bias, with multiple flaws, including analyses of secondary endpoints, small and underpowered studies, inconsistent results and numerous other issues. Therefore, enthusiasm for a vitamin D panacea should be tempered.”

Despite the lack of evidence, belief in the benefits of vitamin D supplements remains strong. Allan believes much of it stems from misplaced trust in studies that show low vitamin D blood levels are linked with poor health. However, association does not prove causation.

"The 40 year old person is highly unlikely to benefit from vitamin D," says Allan. "And when I say highly unlikely, I mean it's not measurable in present science."

Vitamin D Ineffective for Knee Osteoarthritis

By Pat Anson, Editor

Recent studies have suggested that Vitamin D supplements may help reduce pain from fibromyalgia, arthritis and other chronic conditions.

But the “sunshine vitamin” did not relieve pain or stop cartilage loss in patients with knee osteoarthritis, according to new research published in JAMA.

Osteoarthritis is a joint disorder that leads to thinning of cartilage and progressive joint damage. Knee osteoarthritis (OA) is very common and affects over 250 million people worldwide. Nearly 40 percent of Americans over the age of 45 have some degree of knee OA.

Over 400 people with knee OA and low serum levels of Vitamin D participated in the placebo controlled study in Australia and Tasmania. They were divided into two groups; with one receiving Vitamin D supplements and the other a placebo.

Over the course of the two-year study, knee pain, stiffness and physical function were measured with the WOMAC pain scale and MRI scans were used to monitor cartilage volume, defects and bone marrow lesions.  

While the supplements did increase Vitamin D blood levels, they did not reduce knee pain. MRI’s also showed no significant differences in cartilage between the two groups.

“Vitamin D supplementation, when compared with placebo, did not result in significant differences in change in MRI-measured tibial cartilage volume or change in WOMAC knee pain score over 2 years. These findings do not support the use of vitamin D supplementation for preventing tibial cartilage loss or improving WOMAC knee pain among patients with knee osteoarthritis,” said lead author Changhai Ding, MD, of the University of Tasmania.

Vitamin D helps control levels of calcium and phosphate in the body and is essential for the formation of strong bones and teeth. Vitamin D also modulates cell growth, improves neuromuscular and immune function, and reduces inflammation

Vitamin D deficiency – a condition known as hypovitaminosis D -- is caused by poor nutritional intake of Vitamin D, inadequate sunlight or conditions that limit Vitamin D absorption. The most severe type of hypovitaminosis D causes general body pain, especially in the shoulder, rib cage, lumbar and pelvic regions.

Researchers at National Taiwan University Hospital recently found a “positive crude association” between fibromyalgia and hypovitaminosis D.  According to the Vitamin D Council, low levels of Vitamin D could be the result of fibromyalgia, rather than the cause of the disease.

Sources of Vitamin D include oily fish and eggs, but it can be difficult to get enough through diet alone. Ultraviolet rays in sunlight are the principal source of Vitamin D for most people.