Are the New “Official” Vitamin D Recommendations Dangerous to Your Health?

In a report issued late last year by the Institute of Medicine, a committee of physicians and researchers cautioned against taking large amounts of supplemental vitamin D and calcium because they are unnecessary and potentially harmful. However, the committee did recommend slight increases in the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) for calcium (1,000 to 1,300 mg/d) and vitamin D (600 IU/d).

If you follow the advice of the Institute of Medicine, you’ll increase your long-term risk of disease.

It’s always safer for researchers and physicians to take the more conservative approach when recommending supplements—except that it reveals a naiveté about clinical nutrition and can lead to chronic nutritional deficiencies and harm to patients. That is the case with this cautious increase in the RDA for vitamin D, combined with a warning about high-dose vitamin D supplementation. Maintaining the status quo by saying “no” to higher dose supplements carries relatively little risk, at least for doctors. It’s a very different story for the average person, though.

The truth is that three of every four Americans are deficient or marginally deficient in vitamin D, a number that most likely gets even worse during the winter months when people huddle indoors. (Ginde AA. Arch Intern Med, 2009;169:626-632.) By refusing to acknowledge the scale of vitamin D deficiency, and the easy and inexpensive means of treating it, the committee from the National Institute of Medicine is guilty of malpractice. The committee members have reversed the Hippocratic Oath, from “first do no harm” to “first do harm.” Their action, or lack of action, is simply unconscionable.

The situation was made even worse by incredibly sloppy reporting in newspapers, particularly by Gina Kolata of the New York Times. In her article in the NYT after the report came out, she simply related a summary of the Institute of Medicine’s report without critical comment by any expert on vitamin D, such as Michael Holick, M.D., Reinhold Veith, Ph.D., or Robert Heaney, M.D. No mainstream reporter would be so uncritical in echoing a self-serving news release from politicians or corporations. But then, the committee did not even include a recognized expert on vitamin D, so the cautious nature of report may have reflected the fact that the committee members were out of their depth.

The cost of ongoing vitamin D deficiencies will mount with susceptibility to infectious diseases and a greater risk of cancer, heart disease, and depression. But then, there is much more money to be made on treating these diseases than on preventing them.

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