Low Vitamin D Not A Cause Of Poor Health, More Likely A Result

Population studies describe an association between levels of vitamin D and disease … low vitamin D seems to increase risk for heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, and other chronic illnesses. But does it? Supplementation with vitamin D, in intervention studies, does not improve health. What’s going on? Autier et al. in this recent analysis say that low vitamin D may merely be a marker for ill health:

Vitamin D Status And Ill Health: A Systematic Review, The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, Online 6 December 2013

“We did a systematic search of prospective and intervention studies that assessed the effect of 25(OH)D concentrations on non-skeletal health outcomes in individuals aged 18 years or older. We identified 290 prospective cohort studies (279 on disease occurrence or mortality, and 11 on cancer characteristics or survival), and 172 randomised trials of major health outcomes and of physiological parameters related to disease risk or inflammatory status.

Investigators of most prospective studies reported moderate to strong inverse associations between 25(OH)D concentrations and cardiovascular diseases, serum lipid concentrations, inflammation, glucose metabolism disorders, weight gain, infectious diseases, multiple sclerosis, mood disorders, declining cognitive function, impaired physical functioning, and all-cause mortality. High 25(OH)D concentrations were not associated with a lower risk of cancer, except colorectal cancer.

Results from intervention studies did not show an effect of vitamin D supplementation on disease occurrence, including colorectal cancer. In 34 intervention studies including 2805 individuals with mean 25(OH)D concentration lower than 50 nmol/L at baseline supplementation with 50 μg* per day or more did not show better results. Supplementation in elderly people (mainly women) with 20 μg vitamin D per day seemed to slightly reduce all-cause mortality.

The discrepancy between observational and intervention studies suggests that low 25(OH)D is a marker of ill health. Inflammatory processes involved in disease occurrence and clinical course would reduce 25(OH)D, which would explain why low vitamin D status is reported in a wide range of disorders.”

* 50 μg is 50 micrograms or about 2000 IUs

Vitamin D has become a darling in the supplement world. That reputation may not be founded. What’s more likely is that low vitamin D levels, rather than being a cause of poor health, are a consequence.

Lead author of the study, Dr. Autier:1

“Ageing and inflammatory processes involved in disease occurrence… reduce vitamin D concentrations, which would explain why vitamin D deficiency is reported in a wide range of disorders.”

1 Doubt Cast On Vitamin D’s Role Against Disease, BBC, 5 December 2013

4 thoughts on “Low Vitamin D Not A Cause Of Poor Health, More Likely A Result

  1. Bix Post author

    What I take from this is that if we reduce inflammation, vitamin D levels could go up … regardless of how much we supplement.


  2. shaun

    I wonder if you could flip this around and use it as a canary in the coalmine?

    A quick online search shows you can do some in home tests ($45-80), but you have to send them off. I wonder if someone could develop a quick test. A pricked finger at the doctor’s office, combined with history/risk factors, might be another simple way to see if there is cause for further investigation.

    Just a thought.



  3. Bix Post author

    That’s a good way to view this. A doctor, well, a good doctor anyway, would look at a patient’s low vitamin D level and consider it a marker for something, some inflammatory process. (Not just getting too little sun.) After all, most people with, for example, cancer have low levels of vitamin D:

    Low Vitamin D Levels Linked to Advanced Cancers

    That doesn’t mean taking vitamin D protects against cancer! It just means that the inflammatory disease state is associated with low D.



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