COMMENTARY

Vitamin D: Time for Rational Decision-Making

JoAnn E. Manson, MD, DrPH

Disclosures

November 02, 2015

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Hello. This is Dr JoAnn Manson, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. I would like to talk with you about the vitamin D dilemma. The question of whether to screen routinely for vitamin D deficiency or to recommend high-dose vitamin D supplementation for our patients continues to be one of the most perplexing and vexing issues in clinical practice, and many clinicians are seeking guidance on these issues.

There appears to be a growing disconnect between the observational studies and the randomized clinical trials of vitamin D. For example, the observational studies are showing a fairly consistent relationship between low blood levels of vitamin D and an increased risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and many other chronic diseases. Yet, the randomized clinical trials of vitamin D supplementation to date have been generally disappointing. This includes several randomized trials published over the past few months, including a meta-analysis[1] of randomized trials of vitamin D supplementation showing minimal, if any, benefit in terms of lowering blood pressure; a trial[2] of high-dose vitamin D supplementation showing no clear benefit for muscle strength, bone mineral density, or even the risk for falls; and, most recently, a randomized trial[3] of vitamin D supplementation with and without calcium showing no clear benefit in reducing the risk for colorectal adenomas. The latter trial was very recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM)[4] and the US Preventive Services Task Force[5] do not endorse routine universal screening for vitamin D deficiency. They also recommend more moderate intakes [of vitamin D]. For example, the IOM recommends 600-800 IU a day for adults and also recommends avoiding daily intakes above 4000 IU, which has been set as the tolerable upper intake level.

However, it is important to keep in mind that these are public health population guidelines for a generally healthy population, and they by no means preclude individual decision-making by the clinician in the context of a patient who may have health conditions or risk factors that would indicate a benefit from targeted screening for vitamin D deficiency or higher-dose supplementation. For example, some patients may have higher vitamin D requirements. This may include patients with bone health problems (osteoporosis, osteomalacia) or poor diets, those who spend minimal time outdoors, those with malabsorption syndromes, or those who take medications that may interfere with vitamin D metabolism (glucocorticoids, anticonvulsant medications, and antituberculosis drugs). Therefore, overall, there is a role for individualized decision-making, in terms of screening for vitamin D deficiency in patients who have bone health problems or special risk factors, and even treating with higher doses of vitamin D, which may go above 4000 IU a day in patients who have higher requirements.

In the next several years, large-scale, randomized trials of vitamin D supplementation, including high-dose vitamin D supplementation, will be completed—and these results will be published. They will help to inform clinical decision-making, so stay tuned for those results.

Thank you so much for your attention. This is JoAnn Manson.

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