No rivalry is more intense than the one between Harvard and Yale. The two Ivy League schools go head-to-head in at least 40 sports! The best known is the football rivalry, dating back to the late 1800s. Yale won in 2018 in the 134th playing of the annual Harvard/Yale football game, and leads the series 67-59-8. The Harvard-Yale Regatta, the oldest active collegiate sporting event in the United States, was first held in 1852 and became an annual event in 1864; Harvard leads that series 95-56.
What about Harvard/Yale academic competitions? The Yale/Harvard debate competition goes back to 1892. Recently, the schools started a new academic competition, the “Harvard/Yale Vitamin D bowl.” Which of the two institutions gives its alumni and the world the best vitamin D advice? Both institutions have a vitamin D webpage, each putatively giving better vitamin D information than the other. Let’s take a look at them.
Yale’s page, which contains no references, contends that widespread vitamin D deficiency is a hoax. Their recommendations are simply a rehash of the 2011 recommendations from the Institute of Medicine (IOM): 10, 15 or 20 mcg/day depending on age, without mentioning a word about the thousands of more recent studies showing vitamin D’s vital role in many diseases. Yale reports that current science is inadequate to make any other recommendations. For example, the Yale vitamin D team simply ignored the Cochrane Analysis, showing that vitamin D supplementation reduces mortality by 7%, even though the mean dose in that meta-analysis was only about 15 mcg/day.
But not so the Harvard page! The Harvard vitamin D team contends that people need more than the IOM recommends, perhaps a lot more. Also, Harvard discusses several meta-analyses, not only the Cochrane Analysis on mortality, but also the meta-analyses on vitamin D and breast cancer, colon cancer, fracture prevention and acute respiratory infections. Harvard makes it clear that vitamin D deficiency is a real problem that, when and if ever solved, is likely to have a significant impact on human health. The Harvard vitamin D page contains no less than 54 references.
Sure, Harvard could have included more vitamin D meta-analyses, such as multiple sclerosis, disorders of pregnancy, strength and balance in elderly, lowering LDL, depression, executive function, rheumatoid arthritis and falls. Yes, most vitamin D health conditions have both positive and negative meta-analyses, meaning to some – like the folks at Yale – that physicians should not recommend more vitamin D. But, as the first proponent of Evidence Based Medicine said, “The practice of evidence-based medicine means integrating individual clinical expertise with the best available external scientific evidence from systematic research.” Note the emphasis on “individual clinical expertise” and “best available . . . evidence.”
So, the first annual Harvard/Yale Vitamin D Bowl goes to Harvard in a rout. Personally, I would score the teams at 70% for Harvard, but only 10% for Yale. Of interest, the Yale page was written by endocrinologists, who simply ignored the Endocrine Society’s recommendation that vitamin D levels should be above? 40 ng/ml. (Most authors mistakenly report that the Endocrine Society recommends 25(OH)D > 30 ng/ml, which it does if one only reads the abstract; in the body of the paper, they recommend >40 ng/ml.) So, the endocrinologists at Yale simply ignored the Endocrine Society.
Back to athletics – neither website hints at how one athletic team may get an edge over the other in any of their 40 athletic competitions. It’s simple; do what college, professional and Olympic athletes do, as outlined in the Wall Street Journal. That’s right, they are taking vitamin D to improve athletic performance and reduce injuries. We will have to wait until next fall to see if either football team has a “vitamin D edge.”
John Cannell, MD. Harvard vs Yale: whose vitamin D advice is better? The Vitamin D Council Blog & Newsletter, 4/2018.