From Bleak House to My House: A Second Look at Vitamin D

This morning, I noticed that UK news was alight with stories about how the UK National Health Service and NICE are recommending daily vitamin D. In the UK, they are giving out low-dose vitamin D like chocolate at drugstores, groceries, and at your PCP. So it gave me pause after my last post.

First, I wondered: is it really that much more bleak in the UK that the evidence-based authorities are pushing vitamin D so aggressively with certain high-risk groups? Then I thought: did the University of Wisconsin study on postmenopausal women that I wrote about really pan vitamin D supplements? Could the researchers have done better in informing the public. I doubt the public got the story clearly.

I reached Deborah Grady, MD,Professor and Associate Dean of Clinical and Translational Research, at University of California San Francisco,  today, who wrote a companion short commentary in JAMA Internal Medicine on the University of Wisconsin study. I asked her for clarification on the UK/US points of view. She responded: “I don’t think that there is much argument about low-dose vitamin D. [400 IUs per day] of vitamin D is safe, pretty cheap, and might be helpful. The argument is really around much higher doses.”

Meanwhile, today’s US papers were less favorable on vitamin D, referencing  the JAMA Internal Medicine paper.. I asked BMJ’s Richard Lehman for his take on this. He responded: “I have some vitamin D on my desk and I take it occasionally. That’s what they call a British compromise.” That’s an unfamiliar term for me, but a UK-trained doc explained it to me this way: “it’s a political compromise that gives everyone a little bit of what they want and holds the peace for a very long time, but offers no real solution.”

I have spent most of today diving through arcane medical stories that probably could have been more useful for readers.  Perhaps it is unrealistic to hope that vitamin D advice could be as clearcut as the bulleted list from NICE below.

According to NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence), the listed groups below are high-risk groups for vitamin D deficiency and it is these groups that UK public health authorities are reaching out to with enhanced vitamin D access:

  • All pregnant and breastfeeding women, particularly teenagers and young women
  • Infants and children under 5 years
  • People over 65
  • People who have low or no exposure to the sun. For example, those who cover their skin for cultural reasons, who are housebound or confined indoors for long periods
  • People who have darker skin, for example, people of African, African–Caribbean and South Asian origin.

All this input and I haven’t been away from my desk all day. I mean zero time outside, in the sun. It’s just about sundown. Perhaps it’s tantamount to living in the UK. I suppose I should try to change that – although I am not sure how.


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