“What You Don’t Know Can’t Help You”: Vitamin D3 – Silver Lining In That Research Cloud?


Steven P. Timmons

Click to read more about Steven P. Timmons

By Steven P. Timmons

Last month, I had the pleasure of meeting the new publisher of our newspaper, and I mentioned that vitamin D3 is the easiest vitamin to write about, and so I hated to write about it. Why? Because there is always a recent research article reporting a newfound benefit. I told her that I do not like to take the easy path.

To summarize: in past articles I have mentioned that D3 supplementation appears to prevent cancer, decrease the risk of diabetes and heart disease, reverse osteoporosis and improve your sex life! Well…that last one hasn’t been proven, so I never mentioned it, but it may be only a matter of time and more research!

So after claiming I would not write about D3 again, I went home to peruse the research journals and vitamin news, sipping at my coffee, and lo and behold, I found something unusual: a negative vitamin D3 article! Strangely enough, news of this negative finding had made its way into Reuters, Yahoo News, Fox News, and, if I had the time to explore, probably most of the other large news websites.

Mario Castro et al. had performed a study, and reported it in the Journal of the American Medical Association Online (May 18, 2014), where 4000 IU of vitamin D3 was given to patients who were receiving inhaled synthetic corticosteroids in the treatment of asthma. They found that giving this amount of vitamin D3 to patients who were low on D3 at the start of the study did not result in a lengthening of the time to the first asthma treatment failure. Wow! Wait a second. Does that outcome seem a little convoluted?  They then concluded that vitamin D3 was not supported by their study as being a therapeutic strategy in patients with asthma.

Now hold on there…let us look at their data. First of all, it is interesting that the study used only 4000 IU of vitamin D3 per day. Research published in 2011 indicated that a daily dose of 9600 IU is needed to get 95 percent of people above the meager level of 40ng/ml. The Castro study also mentions that almost one quarter of the participants did not reach the defined low end of “normal” levels of D3 (30ng/ml) after receiving their 4000 IU per day dose.

The authors reported that for those participants whose measured blood levels of D3 did reach a normal level, there was a reduction in treatment failures and in rates of asthma exacerbations! Not only that, but this benefit was higher for each 10ng/ml rise in vitamin D3 serum levels! To put it in recognizable English: the higher the level of D3 in the participants after D3 therapy, the less problems these patients had while under treatment for asthma. If the reported outcome had been measured based on the achieved vitamin D3 levels, the results would have been very positive for D3. Yet this is not the conclusion trumpeted in the article and in the news!

Can you now begin to see how you might find a silver lining in a grey cloud of research news? Every week I hear patients at our pharmacy report that they have heard something negative about a vitamin or a bioidentical hormone. Every single time I look into the dark cloud of negative news, I find a silver lining, or a gold lining, or a piece of research that is only an opinion.

In contrast to this much heralded study, as I continued to sip my coffee, I noticed another “research cloud” where the silver was not limited to the lining.  A meta-analysis article published in Anticancer Research (March 2014) by Sharif B Mohr et al. reported that several studies have shown something interesting about women diagnosed with breast cancer: Those women who had a higher vitamin D3 level were less likely to die from their cancer. Women with the highest levels of vitamin D3 had a mortality rate that was half of those women with the lowest D3 levels. This was a very positive article about vitamin D3, yet I could find no mention of it in the large news media outlets. Some clouds just seem to get all of the credit!

Once again, vitamin D3 has come through as an easy topic to write about. It is still the vitamin with the most positive research available, and I cannot help but speak out when a dark cloud of vitamin research floats my way. Forgive me publisher, maybe I was just flying my writer’s kite at the right time, but a silver lining is a hard thing to ignore!

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