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Newsletter: Review of the latest vitamin D literature

Posted on: June 21, 2005   by  John Cannell, MD

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This month’s highlight was Harvard professor Ed Giovannucci’s interview with National Public Radio: Debate over the Benefits of Sun Exposure . Professor Cheryl Rosen, the dermatologist who was supposed to debate him, didn’t show up. Professor Giovannucci was also quoted by the Los Angles Times which finally ran a story on the issue.

The month brought a lot of press coverage about new vitamin D research. For example, a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found women with the highest vitamin D and calcium intake had about half the chance of developing premenstrual syndrome. The findings triggered hundreds of press articles, including this one from FoxNews.

Yet another study documented dangerously low 25(OH)D levels in American children. The press apparently felt PMS was a sexier story than the health of our children and ran no stories on the vitamin D deficient children, even though half the kids were frankly deficient. Nor did the press show much concern for pregnant women, as yet another paper, a review of the literature, concluded vitamin D supplementation may be crucial in pregnancy. Remember, Australian researchers, led by Professor John McGrath, are finding that even transient vitamin D deficiencies during gestation cause permanent and irreversible brain damage. Other research shows this damage is similar to the changes seen in patients with schizophrenia.

Cardiovascular disease is beginning to get some vitamin D attention. This month, a Finnish group reported that low intakes of vitamin D were associated with both heart attack and stroke . A group in Texas discussed evidence on the role of vitamin D in left ventricular hypertrophy and cardiac function.

A paper in Cancer Research showed, once again, that sunshine reduces the risk of prostate cancer. It is nice to see Professor Gary Schwartz is finally getting some attention for the theory he first proposed twenty years ago, as seen on FoxNews and CBS.

Another study added to the evidence that vitamin D deficiency plays a causative role in Type 2 diabetes. In Clinical Endocrinology, a group from Australia demonstrated that blood sugars go up as 25(OH)D levels fall. At least six studies now support Professor Boucher’s 1998 theory in the British Journal of Nutrition that vitamin D deficiency is a major cause of type 2 diabetes and the metabolic syndrome.

Research this month even suggested that Parkinson’s Disease may be related to vitamin D deficiency.

But we wait. Developing fetuses, teenage children, women with PMS and Americans dying of cardiovascular disease and cancer are waiting, waiting for the government to act. Because African Americans are the most deficient, they are suffering the most. Several months ago, the Vitamin D Council filed a civil rights complaint against the FDA on behalf of black Americans, challenging the FDA’s policy of preferentially fortifying food that whites consume.

But the FDA is waiting too, waiting for the government body entrusted with giving the nation official advice on vitamin D: the venerable Institute of Medicine. Every month, evidence grows that hearts are deteriorating, cancers are forming, blood sugars are rising, and fetal brains are being damaged by widespread vitamin D deficiency while Americans patiently wait, wait for the Institute of Medicine to act. When will they do so?

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