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Doubts cast over benefit of vitamin D supplements

Taking vitamin D supplements has little impact on health, according to a new review of trial evidence.

Researchers concluded that the capsules did not reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes, cancers or bone fractures in the general population by more than 15%.

Previous studies have shown a strong link between vitamin D deficiency and poor health and early death.

But newer evidence suggests the association is chiefly due to low vitamin D being the result, not the cause, of ill health, it is claimed.

In the latest study based on 40 randomised trials, scientists used several types of meta-analysis - the pooling together of previous research data - to look at the benefits of vitamin D supplements.

This included a “futility” analysis predicting the potential of future results to sway existing evidence.

The researchers concluded that the effects of vitamin D supplementation on heart attack, stroke, cancer and bone fracture risk lay below a “futility threshold” - meaning further investigation would probably be pointless.

For hip fracture, some trials even suggested an increased risk from vitamin D supplements.

The scientists, led by Dr Mark Bolland from the University of Auckland in New Zealand, wrote in the medical journal The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology: “In view of our findings, there is little justification for prescribing vitamin D supplements to prevent myocardial infarction (heart attack) or ischaemic heart disease, stroke or cerebrovascular disease, cancer, or fractures, or to reduce the risk of death in unselected community-dwelling individuals.

“Investigators and funding bodies should consider the probable futility of undertaking similar trials of vitamin D to investigate any of these endpoints.”

In a linked comment in the journal, Professor Karl Michaelsson, from Uppsala University in Sweden, pointed out: “Without stringent indications… there is a legitimate fear that vitamin D supplementation might actually cause net harm.”

Dr Carrie Ruxton, from the Health Supplements Information Service, said: “In the light of the findings that 75% of the British population have below recommended intakes of vitamin D and that vitamin D is essential for bone health as well as a number of other physiological functions, consideration should be given to everyone taking a vitamin D supplement all year round.”

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Readers' comments (6)

  • Hmmmmmm, call me cynical but my instinct is shouting at me....something about large medical corporations & money

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  • I would suggest readers look at the following link to see an abstract of the study:- http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2813%2961647-5/abstract

    I think "a bias toward positive results" does not say doses of vitamin D could cause net harm. There's a great deal of information to be had looking at the search engines and no doubt, the Vitamin D Council (www.vitamindcouncil.org/) will be countering this study with their own arguments....

    We have heard that there has been a rise in the incidence of rickets in children, due to lack of sun exposure for whatever reason. Are we really supposed to believe that vitamin D confers no benefit?

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  • Tried getting your GP to measure your vitamin D levels lately?

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  • The vit D testing on NH|S is not reliable. "free vitD" is probably the necessaty measurement. Not available on NHS testing. As someone who has been identified as Vit D deficient by Rhuematology services, I now wonder if this deficiency is an effect of disease rather than a cuase. All further investigations of signs and symptoms have been cancelled because I will now apparently be "cured" by Vit D supplementation! I'm not convinced

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  • If vit D is not important why do those people living in the North of Europe where day light and strenght of sunlight is reduced, suffer more fractures of any sort than those who live in Southern Europe

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  • Might be slipping on all the ice our cousins nearer the equator don't endure
    :)

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