September 11, 2007
Vitamin D Supplements Lower Risk Of Death

Time for yet another FuturePundit post on why vitamin D is probably the best nutrient to take as a supplement. A meta-analysis of 18 randomized controlled trials using vitamin D supplements found a 7% lower risk of death among vitamin D supplement users.

Individuals who take vitamin D supplements appear to have a lower risk of death from any cause over an average follow-up time of six-years, according to a meta-analysis of 18 previously published studies in the September 10 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Past studies have suggested that deficiencies in vitamin D might be associated with a higher risk of death from cancer, heart disease and diabetes—illnesses that account for 60 percent to 70 percent of deaths in high-income nations, according to background information in the article. “If the associations made between vitamin D and these conditions were consistent, then interventions effectively strengthening vitamin D status should result in reduced total mortality,” the authors write.

Philippe Autier, M.D., of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, Lyon, France, and Sara Gandini, Ph.D., of the European Institute of Oncology, Milano, Italy, searched for randomized controlled trials of vitamin D supplements published before November 2006. They analyzed 18 separate trials that included 57,311 participants and evaluated doses of vitamin D ranging from 300 to 2,000 international units, with an average dose of 528 international units. Most commercially available supplements contain between 400 and 600 international units.

Over an average follow-up period of 5.7 years, 4,777 of the participants died. Individuals who took vitamin D had a 7 percent lower risk of death than those who did not. In the nine trials that collected blood samples, those who took supplements had an average 1.4- to 5.2-fold higher blood level of vitamin D than those who did not.

The reduction in all cause mortality suggests that vitamin D doesn't just reduce one risk while boosting another. Too many things that might help in some ways end up hurting in other ways. Vitamin D looks like a big net benefit.

Aside from vitamin D I'm hard pressed to think of a single vitamin that holds the promise of such a large benefit if taken as a supplement by most people in developed countries. Most likely you could do much better for your health by eating more vegetables and fruits than by taking any other vitamin.

Update: Vitamin D probably reduces the risk of preeclampsia too.

Vitamin D deficiency early in pregnancy is associated with a five-fold increased risk of preeclampsia, according to a study from the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences reported this week in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 September 11 06:41 PM  Aging Diet Studies

drtomcor said at September 12, 2007 11:01 AM:

News flash: Risk of death fights back stubbornly, still at 100%.

Rob said at September 12, 2007 6:42 PM:

For now doctor, for now.

Tom said at September 13, 2007 5:34 AM:

>Aside from vitamin D I'm hard pressed to think of a single vitamin that holds the promise of such a large benefit if taken as a supplement by most people in developed countries.

Folic acid (neural)?. Iron (growth)?

Tom said at September 13, 2007 6:50 AM:

Sorry I understood "developing" countries

Alex said at September 13, 2007 10:50 AM:

what level of supplementation is recommended?

rsilvetz said at September 13, 2007 6:10 PM:

Based on latest literature, anywhere from 1000 IU to 4000 IU on a daily basis. The larger you are the more you need. So slim ecto's should be on the lower end and if you are big meso, go for the higher end.

Make sure you get plenty of sunlight otherwise...

Toadal said at September 14, 2007 9:00 PM:

My evidence is anecdotal, however. I've noticed two nagging physical immune system symptoms that two years of vitamin D supplementation seems to have eliminated.

1. Bleeding gums. My gums never bleed anymore while brushing my teeth. Before supplementation they bled 2-3 times a month, especially in late winter.

2. Oral herpes outbreaks. I now rarely if ever have oral herpes outbreaks. I had regular outbreaks from 8 years old onward usually due to illness or stress that were sometimes severe after sun exposure during early Winter.

Perhaps some aspiring medical student wanting to establish a reputation could do so by trawling medical databases to establish whether vitamin D strengthens lymphocytes. BTW, I am northern European.

yorik said at September 16, 2007 6:32 PM:

They've known since the 1940's that vitamin D reduces the risk of cancers, since D is a cellular growth regulator. In fact, although sun exposure increases your risk of skin cancer, the vitamin D generated in your skin drastically reduces the incidence of INTERNAL cancers. (I sure wish I could find my copy of the PubMed article which discusses this, but in the meantime anybody can search PubMed for vitamin D and cancer.) As for supplementation, be sure to get natural vitamin D supplements, not synthetic.

David Govett said at September 17, 2007 10:26 AM:

Last I heard, the risk of death remains 100%. The risk of premature death (whatever that is), however, might be affected.

Nick said at September 18, 2007 12:52 PM:

"Last I heard, the risk of death remains 100%. "

Maybe - medicine is improving fast, and the risk of death has to be measured over a lifetime :)

Curious Survivor said at September 21, 2007 7:56 AM:


From your research, what dosages and classes of supplement are most effective? What do you use?

Randall Parker said at September 21, 2007 6:26 PM:

Curious Survivor,

I take vitamin D and sometimes magnesium.

I doubt that most vitamins provide any benefit. Near as I can tell eating less meat and more vegetables and fruits and less saturated fats is the best thing you can do for yourself with diet and nutrients. A lower glycemic index diet is good too. What you eat matters far more and you can't protect yourself from harmful foods with vitamins.

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