By Sean Zucker –
Vitamin D has long maintained a reputation for providing many health benefits. In an interview with WellWell, Dr. Judson Somerville even claimed that vitamin D supplements saved his life. “Of course, it’s great for the immune system, but it goes well beyond that. Vitamin D directly affects the brain,” he explained.
Yet the most famous vitamin D benefit has been its reputed ability to support healthy bones–think every milk ad released over the last 30 thirty years. A new study is throwing this long-held belief into question, suggesting these supplements don’t supply bone-benefitting aid.
Recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine, the research marks the first large-scale randomized controlled study in the United States. “The prevailing opinion at the time [before this study] was that vitamin D was likely to prevent bone fractures. Researchers thought that as vitamin D levels fell, parathyroid hormone levels would increase at a detriment to bones,” the study reported.
The researchers tested this widely held belief by judging the impact of D3 supplements against a placebo in lowering the risk of fractures. The work focused on data collected over five years from over 25,000 subjects, which included men 50 years and old and women at least 55 years old. The recruitment process did not consider vitamin D deficiency, low bone mass or osteoporosis. Those involved in the study reported any fractures on annual questionnaires.
Based on the fractures reported—1,547 from those who took supplements against 1,582 from those taking only a placebo—the team concluded that vitamin D3 supplements did not significantly affect total fractures, non-vertebral fractures or hip fractures.
“Providers should stop screening for 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels or recommending vitamin D supplements, and people should stop taking vitamin D supplements to prevent major diseases or extend life,” according to Dr. Steven R. Cummings of California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute and Dr. Clifford Rosenof the Maine Health Institute for Research.
Cummings and Rosenof did include a few qualifiers in their assessment of these supplements. People suffering from celiac, or Crohn’s disease may still require vitamin D supplements. Individuals consistently deprived of sunshine and who might not have access to foods that contain vitamin D, such as cereals and dairy products, to help them absorb calcium may also require a boost.
But even they noted that conditions that create a severe vitamin D shortage are rare in the U.S. It is “very hard to do in the general population,” they wrote.