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NFL players with higher vitamin D levels less likely to get cut, according to new study

Posted on: February 18, 2015   by  John Cannell, MD


It’s been six years since my colleagues and I wrote our paper on athletic performance and vitamin D.

Cannell JJ, Hollis BW, Sorenson MB, Taft TN, Anderson JJ. Athletic performance and vitamin D. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009 May;41(5):1102-10.

And it’s been four years since I wrote a book on the subject.

Athlete’s Edge; Faster, Quicker, Stronger with Vitamin D.

So I was intrigued when Dr. Joseph Maroon and colleagues at the University of Pittsburg Medical Center measured the vitamin D levels of 55 NFL players from the Pittsburg Steelers during the off-season and correlated those levels to broken bones and being cut from the team.

Maroon JC, Mathyssek CM, Bost JW, Amos A, Winkelman R, Yates AP, Duca MA, Norwig JA. Vitamin D Profile in National Football League Players. Am J Sports Med. 2015 Feb 3. 

The serum vitamin D levels of the players ranged from 8 to 59 ng/mL, with 68.8% of the team (n = 55) having vitamin D levels less than 32 ng/ml.The majority of the athletes (84%) were black. The black athletes had significantly lower vitamin D levels than did white athletes (25.6 vs. 37.4 ng/mL). Notably, all athletes with vitamin D levels categorized as deficient (<20 ng/ml) were black, as were 91% of the athletes with insufficient (20 – 32 ng/ml) vitamin D levels.

Athletes with levels above 32 ng/ml had played significantly more NFL seasons than athletes with deficient levels (P = .005). When correcting for number of NFL seasons played, vitamin D levels were significantly lower in the athletes who experienced a bone fracture (P = .001). The 21 players who were released during the 2012-2013 preseason had significantly lower vitamin D levels when compared with the players who made the team (P = .001).

The authors concluded,

“The vitamin D profile of professional NFL football players in our sample was more favorable than that of the general population; yet, vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency levels were found to be significant in the subset of black players evaluated. We found that vitamin D levels were inversely related to bone fracture prevalence. Furthermore, low vitamin D levels were associated with a higher risk of getting released during preseason, possibly indicating poorer performance. Based on these findings, routine monitoring and optimization of vitamin D levels should be considered as part of the routine care of NFL players, with special attention to black athletes.”

Increasingly, I am finding that sunlight offers benefits above and beyond that of vitamin D. It is easy to forget that vitamin D blood levels, as were measured in this study, are a marker for both vitamin D and sun exposure.  This is why the Vitamin D Council recommends safe and sensible sun exposure, along with vitamin D supplements on the days you can’t get adequate sunshine.

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