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Isn’t this always the way? Just as I’ve finally established the habit of taking my vitamin D and calcium supplements every morning, a new report comes out saying I don’t need them.
Today, for the first time in 10 years, the Institute of Medicine (IOM), which helps establish vitamin RDAs (recommended dietary allowances), released new vitamin D and calcium guidelines. After years of conflicting information about how much we should be getting for optimal health, the U.S. and Canadian governments asked the committee to review scientific evidence on the matter. Their findings: Most Americans and Canadians are getting adequate amounts of both nutrients, and that taking too much could be harmful.
That conclusion flies in the face of highly publicized research that suggests most U.S. adults are deficient in vitamin D -- and that low levels of the so-called sunshine vitamin could contribute to everything from cancer to autoimmune diseases. One such study, published last year in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that three-quarters of adolescents and adults aren’t getting enough D.
So what’s to account for the discrepancy? Well, for one, guidelines that determine whether a person is deficient vary. For the study mentioned above, anyone with fewer than 30 nanograms per milliliter of vitamin D in their blood was considered deficient. While the authors of the new IOM report concede that everyone would need to take a supplement to achieve that level of vitamin D, they believe it is unnecessary and could even lead to kidney and heart damage. After reviewing more than 1,000 studies, the IOM committee found that blood levels between 20 to 30 nanograms were sufficient for good nutrition and bone health -- and that most everyone is within that range. As for the rest of the health conditions that have been associated with low levels of D, such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and autoimmune disease, the committee found study results to be either mixed or inconclusive, and said there isn’t enough evidence to back up the connection. The committee believes high doses of vitamin D supplements, like the 2,000 IU recommended by some physicians, would be neither beneficial nor safe.
Despite their conclusions, the IOM does recommend adding more vitamin D and calcium to our diets -- without the use of supplements. Specifically, they’re calling for an RDA increase in vitamin D from 200 IU to 600 IU for people between the ages of 1 and 70. Infants should be getting 400 IU of vitamin D, while those over 70 need 800 IU of vitamin D daily.
The new calcium guidelines call for 700 mg of calcium per day for children aged 1 through 3; 1,000 mg for children 4-8; 1,300 mg for kids between 9 and 18; 1,000 mg for women 19-50 and men 19-70. Women over 50 and men over 70 need 1,200 mg of calcium per day.
While I must admit I have been skeptical about all the hype surrounding vitamin D recently, I do know that, for a lot of people, the nutrient is hard to come by. Even though the body makes it naturally when our skin is exposed to sunlight, most of us spend either too much time indoors or slathered in sunscreen to get it that way. The best food sources of vitamin D include fortified milk, orange juice, cereal and fatty fish. While a glass of milk or OJ will give you about 100 IU of vitamin D, three or four ounces of salmon or tuna will supply 400 or more IUs. Since I walk my dog before applying my SPF every morning and eat fish on a near-daily basis, I was surprised when, last winter, my doctor diagnosed me with low levels of vitamin D and put me on a prescription-strength dose of 10,000 IUs a week. So, after reading the IOM’s statement that 20 nanograms of D is sufficient, I went back and looked at a copy of my lab results. My own vitamin D levels were 25.3 nanograms per milliliter -- perfectly acceptable according to the IOM report. While I’m not sure whether I’ll give up my 400 IUs of vitamin D and 600 mg of calcium every day, it is at least reassuring to know that I’m probably not at any greater risk of cancer, heart disease, or a host of other ills because of my vitamin D levels.
Will this report change how much calcium and vitamin D you take every day? Chime in below.