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Study finds high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in physicians

Posted on: February 22, 2015   by  John Cannell, MD


The nutrition world is in the midst a revolution: the Vitamin D Revolution. The number of vitamin D blood tests ordered by physicians (usually because the patient requests one) has increased tenfold over the last several years. The number of people taking vitamin D supplements has also increased tenfold over the same period. The number of scientific publications on vitamin D continues to increase every year.

However, it is important to remember that we are only at the very beginning of this revolution. The majority of the public are unfamiliar with the benefits of vitamin D and its effects in the body. And, just recently, it has become clear that most physicians still do not understand the importance of maintaining sufficient vitamin D levels.

Dr. Gabriel Munter and colleagues, of the Hebrew University in Israel, recently conducted a study in which they tested the vitamin D levels of 81 physicians, 38 community-based physicians and 43 hospital-based physicians. Community-based physicians are like your family doctor; hospital-based physicians are like intensive-care specialists.

Munter G, Levi-Vineberg T, Sylvetsky N. Vitamin D deficiency among physicians: a comparison between hospitalists and community-based physicians. Osteoporos Int. 2015 Jan 30. [Epub ahead of print].

They found that the average 25(OH)D of the physicians was about 17 ng/ml. Only 8% of the physicians had levels above 30 ng/ml. Vitamin D levels were lower in the hospital-based physicians than the community based ones. Overall, about 67% of the doctors had levels less than 20 ng/ml.

The Vitamin D Council has a lot of work to do. If physicians do not care about their vitamin D levels, I doubt they care much about the levels of their patients. So, it’s important to remember the Vitamin D Revolution is in its infancy.

4 Responses to Study finds high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in physicians

  1. Rita Celone Umile

    I admire all physicians. I think that they must live with the very tremendous burden of not only providing patient care, but also the burden of being viewed many times as a type of God in the eyes of so many of their patients. I think that the average patient turns to his or her physician, often times in despair, with the plea of “please fix me.”

    In my opinion, folks place an inordinate amount of value upon the words of their doctors. Some doctors are able to handle this blind faith quite nicely, always remembering that in reality they are only human. Other doctors believe their patients. And some doctors turn away from their patients on an emotional level, as they know that they in reality they can never (ever) meet the expectations of those they treat. But over all, I do think that most physicians are compassionate folks, and they seek this profession because they care about their fellow human beings, and they care greatly.

    When it comes to something like vitamin D, something that many currently practicing physicians were taught in medical school to be cautious of in anything but the most minute amounts, I would imagine that a physician not knowledgeable in D would be very leery of recommending it to his or her patients in extremely high doses prior to studies backing up such recommendations. After all, the Hippocratic Oath states “first do no harm,” correct? (additionally, physicians have to worry about the errant law suit or two).

    Clinical studies take a very long time, and many times for good reasons. But in the case of vitamin D, I’m certain that it is a mistake for the physician to wait for theses studies. I speak from the view point of being a successful experiment of one regarding vitamin D, and I have had the pleasure of viewing several family members also being their own successful experiments of one regarding vitamin D.

    I’m not a physician nor am I a researcher. So, I hope those here with such backgrounds will judge me gently at my next suggestion.

    Since we know enough now to state that vitamin D deficiency is a very real and serious deficiency, and one that has been associated with at least 12 internal cancers, autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease, autism, depression and dementia, (etc), why not consider treating each patient as an experiment-of-one in terms of D, with unique doses and consistent blood tests to ensure patient health. But rather than utilizing 100 ng/ml as the cut off for an optimal 25(OH)D level, why not look to calcium levels to determine toxicity and the improvement of patient symptoms/health to gauge vitamin D’s role in the body? Of course, D cannot work without its co-factors, as well as a healthy diet, good sleep hygiene, and appropriate exercise.

    In other words, let’s help the patient be responsible for his or her own health. Does this sound like medical blasphemy? I apologize if it does.

    Physicians often state that it is the patient who is unreceptive to such healthcare. But let us turn full circle here. Folks look to their physicians as being infallible. Perhaps it’s time for physicians to be a bit more direct with their patients. I think patients need to hear that every drug has a side effect, and medications won’t necessary be the panacea these folks seek, and that the side effects of some medications are actually more dangerous than the conditions for which they are prescribed.

    And in closing, regarding vitamin D, if physicians and researchers who know better (like those here) choose to stay silent during this vitamin D revolution, which is in its infancy, will have a prolonged vitamin D revolution childhood. Perhaps each vitamin D knowledgeable physician and researcher here might well consider mentoring one ignorant mainstream medicine practitioner. That would miraculously speed things up, in my opinion.

    By the way, I am still searching for a patient, compassionate and vitamin D knowledgeable physician for my mom. Yes, she certainly is a difficult 87 year old patient, but she has lived through TB and melanoma, and she’s halted her osteoporosis without drugs. As a matter of fact, at 87 she takes no prescription meds.

    Thanks, Dr. Cannell, for the Vitamin D Council. I appreciate your courage here on this still very controversial health topic. I hope you continue to speak (loudly) for all the years necessary needed to win the war on Vitamin D. πŸ˜‰

    Be well.


  2. Anh Phan

    I agree with you completely Rita.

  3. Rita Celone Umile

    Anh, thank you for your words of encouragement. Recently at work I debated my above point on monitoring vitamin D toxicity by calcium levels rather than 25(OH)D level. I was bluntly reminded that I am not scientifically trained. So your words of encouragement mean a great deal to me.

    But (and this is no bluff), my unsuccessful debate yesterday solidifies in my mind that the medical sphere is a tightly closed group, and no change will be accepted but from within. In other words, it will take doctors to convince doctors.

    Dr. Cannell, I hope that this isn’t an unfair request from me as a member, as I specifically know you are extremely busy, but I would ask you to comment here–particularly on the topic of monitoring calcium levels, rather than 25(OH)D levels, for vitamin D toxicity. Thanks! πŸ™‚

  4. Rebecca Oshiro

    Imagine if we supplemented all the physicians and they could see what a difference it makes. Then they’d be willing to pass the favor along to their patients!

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