Unless you’re Kreskin (or you don’t mind looking foolish), don’t go on record confidently predicting the outcome of a court case before the decision is handed down. Same thing goes for horseracing, Super Bowl match-ups or roulette. And based on recent events, Institute of Medicine decisions should be added to the list.
Right after the IOM announced it would soon publish new guidelines for vitamin D and calcium intakes, news stories cropped up on the Web anticipating that the agency would more than double the old recommendations to 1,000 IUs/day or more. Well, those numbers were overly optimistic at best, since the real recommendation was 600 IUs for most age groups. Clearly, the government isn’t as convinced of the benefits of vitamin D as many in our industry. Or, is it?
What Were They Thinking?
I asked a few industry members what they thought about the report, and they were less than enthusiastic about the new numbers. While some feel the report is better than the 1997 guidelines, the overall consensus seems to be that the new recommendations don’t go far enough (see our news coverage on page 8). Studies conducted by reputable sources indicate that the daily recommended intakes (DRIs) are not sufficient, and the upper tolerable limits of 4,000 IUs are ridiculous. I tend to agree.
Like you, I have many questions about how the IOM committee members arrived at the numbers. Why did they use a lower blood serum level for vitamin D than most research indicates is beneficial? Why aren’t the members’ comments and recommendations public? And at the press conference I attended (via Web), why did the committee seem almost embarrassed about how the report handles “new” applications for vitamin D? These include immune health, diabetes care, cancer care and more, which, unlike bone health, they feel are not supported by enough cause-and-effect data to link them to vitamin D.
I may be giving the group too much credit, but to me, the committee seemed apologetic. Committee head Catharine Ross said something to the effect of (I summarize), “Please understand that we need to be conservative.” Later, she encouraged researchers to continue their very promising vitamin D research into new areas, and actually thanked a reporter for giving her a softball question that gave her the chance to say so. Again, for reasons I don’t understand, the committee said it was unable to use all available vitamin D research to define its DRIs—but “research should continue on non-bone health indicators like cancer.”
At another point in the press conference, the committee spoke about why it chose 4,000 IUs of vitamin D as the limit before the nutrient is deemed harmful. The group noted it “backed off” from its original inclination of 10,000 IUs/day to 4,000. “Backed off.” Interesting choice of words.
Could it be that the committee members felt pressured to stick with what they called “conservative” estimates? Is there something more in the back story of this report’s negotiations?
The bottom line is that it’s shameful to play around with the public’s health. If higher levels are supported by research, then the IOM is obligated to act on it. And if they won’t, maybe we should. One industry group, the Alliance for Natural Health—USA, is challenging the report with a petition*. In addition to action like this, retailers who believe that vitamin D supplementation is important should continue to proudly sell the Sunshine Vitamin— and carefully explain its health benefits to shoppers.
To me, it’s important we remember a “conservative estimate” does not necessarily mean it’s a correct estimate. WF
Kaylynn Chiarello-Ebner Editor/Associate Publisher
*Information about the petition is available at www.anhusa.org/action-alert-is-the-institute-of-medicine-in-bed-with-big-pharma.
Published in WholeFoods Magazine, January 2011