After a new study published in January determined that, between three different doses of vitamin D, there was no change in bone mineral density or in the number of falls participants had, reports in the mainstream media featured headlines along the lines of “Vitamin D supplements are of no benefit to the over 70s.” Those headlines, experts contend, are misleading.
An overview of the study
The research, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and titled “Randomized controlled trial of vitamin D supplementation in older people to optimize bone health” by Terry Aspray et al., was conducted on 379 adults over 70 years old from the northeast of England. They were randomly allocated to one of three doses of vitamin D—12,000 IU, 24,000 IU, or 48,000 IU—which were given once per month. There was no difference, between the groups, in change in bone mineral density. However, parathyroid hormone concentrations decreased in all three groups in a dose-dependent manner.
Study author Dr. Aspray, honorary clinical senior lecturer at Newcastle University’s Institute of Cellular Medicine, noted that D does have benefits. He said in a press release that, “While our findings do not support evidence of the benefit of high dose vitamin D supplements, at least on bone mineral density, we do, however, identify that higher doses of the vitamin may have beneficial effects on bone metabolism and that they are safe for older people.”
Taking a closer look at the research
Andrea Wong, Ph.D., VP of scientific & regulatory affairs of the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), told WholeFoods that, first of all, there was no placebo group. “We don’t know the true effect of vitamin D. It’s quite possible that all doses attenuate bone mineral density loss and falls.” Beyond that, she says, “This study is probably generalizable to the U.K. population, but not necessarily to other populations. In the U.S., 90% of Americans fall short on vitamin D, and older people are more vulnerable: They’re less mobile, so they spend less time outside; their skin doesn’t take in sunlight as well as younger people’s skin; and they don’t get enough from their diets.”
When asked if people should take vitamin D regardless, Dr. Wong said: “There are vitamin D receptors in most of our cells. There are so many different functions that we know about, and functions that are still emerging. There’s science showing its effects on immune function, and even a bit on cancer prevention.” In other words: Don’t write off vitamin D because of one study. It’s still an essential nutrient.