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Vitamin D's dangers

Vitamin D has been in the news a lot lately because of lots of research indicating that many Americans may be suffering from deficiencies of the "sunshine vitamin" and that could be associated with all sort of health problems. Well, there's some cautionary new research that suggests that taking vitamin D could have some unexpected downsides.

Kerrie Sanders of the University of Melbourne in Australia and colleagues studied 2,256 women ages 70 and older to see if giving them a big dose of vitamin D once a year would reduce their risk of falls and fractures. That's a big problem for the elderly, and there's plenty of good evidence that vitamin D is vital for strong bones.

So the researchers were surprised to discover that the women who got the vitamin D experienced 15 percent more falls and 26 percent more fractures than those who got a placebo, according to a report in this week's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The researchers speculate that the reason may be the dose of vitamin D used in the study. It's the largest total annual dose of vitamin D -- 500,000 international units -- used in any large study like this. There might be something about giving that much vitamin D all at once that causes the body to produce less vitamin D, which ends up weakening bones, causing more falls and fractures, the researchers say.

In an editorial accompanying the study Bess Dawson Hughes and Susan Harris of Tufts University write that the findings underscore the need to get a better understanding of how vitamin D works in the body. That's especially important, they say, as vitamin D supplement sales have soared in recent years because of all the attention the nutrient has been getting.

By Rob Stein  |  May 12, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
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Why on earth would they give a massive dose of a vitamin once a year, rather than a daily dose? This sounds like a study that was not well thought through.

Posted by: johnsondeb | May 12, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Why on earth would they give a massive dose of a vitamin once a year, rather than a daily dose? This sounds like a study that was not well thought through.

Posted by: johnsondeb | May 12, 2010 10:54 AM | Report abuse

The well-funded and heavy hand of Big Pharma is most likely behind this study, clearly designed to cast doubt on a cheap, non-presctiption-drug therapy. Additionally, anyone who would give a single 500,000IU dose of Vitamin D should be prosecuted for medical malpractice.

Posted by: winsteaddennis | May 12, 2010 11:05 AM | Report abuse

Why is the story titled" Vitamin D Dangers" and not "Vitamin D Dangers in Ridiculous, Mega-Doses No One Expecetd to Work Anyway?

Lets do the same experiment with water- drink 80 gallons in one sitting for the year's requirement?

Not one person would survive it- let alone last a year.

Vitamin D health is the most important health crisis in the world- nothing comes close. You can not be healthy in any true aspect unless your 25 OH D level (semi-aactivated vitamin D)is at least 50 ng/ml, year round.

Big Pharma hates vitamin D truth as they should. What will they do with their nearly worthless scripts that have at best marginal effect and at worst tons of consequences?

Posted by: dokadow | May 12, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

Why didn't the headline read, "Safe but not effective to take 1250 times the recommended daily dose of Vitamin D in one annual dose"?

My multivitamin lists the RDA as 400 iu's, so those ladies got MORE THAN THREE YEARS' WORTH of Vitamin D in one dose!!!

Posted by: karen2222 | May 12, 2010 12:22 PM | Report abuse

This is the silliest "health report" I have ever read! What gross incompetence! It undermines the truth that we are all becoming Vitamin D-deficient because we now spend way too much time indoors or covered in expensive sunscreen.

Get out, take a walk, and enjoy some actual sunshine every day you can. The only time you likely need sunscreen is when you plan to spend way too much time in the sun. We evolved in sunlight. Do you honestly think our ancestors took off most of their clothing and sat in bright sunlight for fun? NOT! They spent time outdoors with proper hats, clothing, etc., and they chose their time of day.

In the winter, or in northern locales, take a vitamin D supplement - maybe 1000-2000 mg a day. I added a cheap Vit D supp. to my daily intake a couple years ago and have not had so much as a cold in two years. My skin looks great. Even my body shape, without any change in weight, appears better. Vit D is actually a hormone, and acts on every cell in the body.

Posted by: bernadete | May 12, 2010 1:36 PM | Report abuse

The title of this article is very misleading. Please change it. The study was not an evaluation of a normal dosage, but instead an insane dosage. This does nothing to dispel the many benefits of increased (2,000iu a day)vitamin D.

Please change the title -- the current one is a gross disservice.

Posted by: rbmorgan | May 12, 2010 2:40 PM | Report abuse

I agree, change the title. My primary doc found, through a blood test, that my Vitamin D level was way, way low. So he prescribed a large dose (don't remember the dosage) 2x week for 8 weeks, and then 1000 units a day forever, which is the dosage in my (new) daily OTC vitamin supplement. Why on earth does anyone need a once a year dose, in the first (and second and third and ...) place? That is absurd and, as some suggest, possible malpractice.

On that same note, I take a generic version of Foxamax in a once weekly dose (osteoperosis related medication). When Fosamax first came out it was a daily dose, and I appreciate the once a week convenience because either daily or weekly requires both being upright and not eating or drinking anything but water for at least 30-60 minutes after the dose. That's easier to do once a week. But I have seen ads for once monthly dosages of similar drugs, and even once a year IVs for this purpose - and I think those are absurdly risky also.

Posted by: vklip1 | May 12, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

Always a fun time experimenting on the elderly.

Posted by: ozpunk | May 12, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

How did this "experiment" get cleared? Didn't they have to go through the usual protocols involved in setting up an experiment using human subjects?

I also have to wonder if there are that many people deficient in vitamin D in Australia (particularly among the retired population), which has a year-round temperate climate and plenty of sunshine.

Posted by: floof | May 12, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse

It should be noted very carefully that large doses of vitamin D (called Stoss therapy - 500,000 i.u. and up) bring critcally ill patients back from death's door. This is especially true when dealing with persistant, resistant bacterial infections where no type or amount of antibiotics is effective.

The practice is done in Europe when nothing else works. Doctors there know they are dealing with a soon to be corpse unless they atempt this unconventional protocol.


If the drug companies really wanted to grab headlines why not conduct the experiment with 50,000,000 or 1 billion i.u. of vitamin D? That way they could say the whole room, maybe the whole hospital, through osmosis, started falling more frequently.

Posted by: dokadow | May 12, 2010 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Agreed that it sounds like Big Pharm checking out whether they can sell you an IV wallop of Vit D annually. More profitable than those silly pills, glasses of milk, or even 15 minutes in the sun.

It confirms my opinion that vitamins are best when acquired the old fashioned way - through diet or perhaps even a little sunshine.

Posted by: RedBird27 | May 12, 2010 6:31 PM | Report abuse

This is the kind of 'science' that wastes everyone's time. The pressure to produce something publishable results in idle speculation unsupported by the data. This adds to the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) and makes it harder to disseminate valid scientific information.

Posted by: RichardinPasadena | May 12, 2010 6:41 PM | Report abuse

The truth is that what is "recommended" as a normal dose of vitamin d and what a normal range is in the bloodstream is 400 IU's and between 32 and 80. These values were created 70 years ago when we learned that 400 IU's was enough vitamin d to prevent rickets and the normal values were based on 1940's agricultural data. Believe it or not, until just recently, nobody questioned the validity of either index.

In my practice and the other practice in my office, we regularly give 400,000 IU's in an injection. It hardly improves the baseline vitamin D level. It's a start. I personally had a very low vitamin d level and after one injection and then nearly 2 years of supplementation (6000 IU's a day) I am safely in the normal range. In essence, what I'm saying is that the size of the number isn't necessarily dangerous (penicillin injections are a million units). I'd be more interested in asking secondary questions to the study participants. Perhaps their activity levels increased and they were more at risk for falls. Did their bone density decrease in that year, stay the same, or did it increase? Sometimes a study has no real conclusions but creates others questions that should be studied

Posted by: Rogie | May 12, 2010 7:25 PM | Report abuse

This brings back memories of the Government's test, maybe three decades ago, that indicated that a rat that drank 800 cans of cyclamate-sweetened diet pop every day would greatly increase its risk of developing bladder cancer. So, cyclamate was banned for human consumption, and still is. I don't think that any rats actually exploded.

Posted by: chuck8 | May 12, 2010 10:02 PM | Report abuse

This is typical how Big Pharm and the government smears vitamins and herbs. They use flawed studies to dismiss, denigrate and destroy the public's confidence in supplements.

If the truth was told, it would probably come out that they don't want the public to be well. The sicker the population is - the more business they get. Also, they hate competition. They would rather see children suffer from rickets - a softening of bones in children potentially leading to fractures and deformity, instead of taking Vitamin D.

They would rather have cancer patients to treat, and burn and make nauseous with chemotherapy. Prevention is the last thing they want. Vitamin D is a threat.

Posted by: alance | May 12, 2010 11:16 PM | Report abuse

OK, you didn't give enough details about the study. They had found in the past that large doses divided over time had been protective--but in a single really large dose they had found in animals that the body reacted as if a toxin was present & the enzyme responsible for breaking vitamin D down went into overdrive.
A more useful tidbit that came out recently is to take your dose of vitamin D with your largest meal, as the vitamin needs fat to help the body absorb.

Posted by: smar | May 18, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

I was told in college to 'Enjoy your sunshine in small 10-15 minute doses without the use of sunscreen so that the Vitamin D is absorbed into your body. After 15-20 mintutes, be careful and cover your body with clothes, hats, sunglasses, and spf on the exposed areas'.

I practice this everyday, and I have a noticeable difference in my mood- sunshine makes me happier. I am not sure of the truth behind this remedy, but I will continue to practice getting my daily dose of D whenever I can.

Posted by: GeriCareFinder | May 18, 2010 6:02 PM | Report abuse

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