“Wouldn’t it be great if there was a single thing that you or I could do to be healthy that was as simple as taking a vitamin, which seems benign, every day? There is an appeal to it. There is a simplicity to it. But for the average person, they don’t need it.” Dr. Michael Allan, a professor of Family Medicine at the U of A, said.
Vitamin D, sometimes called the sunshine vitamin, has been touted as a way to reduce falls and fractures, and prevent or treat multiple sclerosis, arthritis and depression. But according to Allan, much of that belief isn’t supported by science.
Allan and his colleagues reviewed 1,600 studies to examine evidence for 10 common beliefs about vitamin D. Their research, which looked at studies from the past decade, found little to no conclusive evidence that vitamin D supplementation offers any benefits.
“Even areas that we really thought there was good evidence for benefit early on, don’t seem to be bearing out,” Allan said.
There was some evidence to suggest vitamin D supplements help when it comes to preventing falls and fractures in seniors. However, Allan said the benefit was very minimal and increasing the dosage actually increased the chance of a fall in frailer people.
“If you were to take a group of people who were at higher risk of breaking a bone-so had about a 15 per cent chance of breaking a bone over the next 10 years-and treated all of them with a reasonable dose of vitamin D for a decade, you’d prevent a fracture in around one in 50 of them over that time.”
“Many people would say taking a drug for 10 years to stop one in every 50 fractures is probably not enough to be meaningful. And that’s the best vitamin D gets as far as we know now.”
Patrycia Rzechowka lives with MS, a disease linked to low vitamin D. Soon after her diagnosis she was told to take vitamin D. While the research isn’t welcome news to the 27-year-old, she said she stopped taking the supplement for six months and noticed her symptoms got worse. Rzechowka is now back on it.
“Until someone can come and say it definitely doesn’t work, it’s just a few pills so I’m going to keep taking it.”
Allan said there is no harm in taking the recommended daily dose of 1,000 International Units per day. He’s also quick to point out that much of the existing research around vitamin D was poorly executed and consists of poor quality evidence. He admits more better quality research is needed.
“There’s a difference between what research says and what belief says. And sometimes it will take a lot of really, really great research to erode that belief.”
The MS Society of Canada provided the following statement to Global News.
“The MS Society of Canada understands that the link between vitamin D deficiency and MS is a topic that is of great interest to people affected by MS. There is ongoing research that aims to determine whether supplementation with vitamin D can improve outcomes in people with MS, both alone and in combination with disease-modifying treatments, and the MS Society is watching the results of that research closely. The MS Society is working with researchers and clinicians to provide information about vitamin D in hopes of achieving greater clarity for people affected by MS. At present, the MS Society encourages individuals living with MS who are exploring options in regard to their health to maintain ongoing consultations with their healthcare team.”