Is Vitamin D Still Worth Taking in 2024?

Vitamin D

Is Vitamin D Still Worth Taking in 2024?

In the ever-shifting landscape of nutritional science, Vitamin D, once revered as a universal remedy for various afflictions, now finds itself under the microscope of skepticism. This once-celebrated nutrient, which had comfortably nestled itself into the daily health rituals of countless individuals, was pursued with zeal for its supposed protective qualities against a range of conditions, from the brittleness of bones to the insidious creep of cancer. However, recent research challenges this widespread adulation, suggesting a reevaluation of its efficacy in staving off common diseases. The once-bright star of Vitamin D, it seems, is encountering a twilight of doubt in the scientific community.

The VITAL Study: A Turning Point

The linchpin in this shift of perspective is the VITAL study, one of the most extensive research efforts on Vitamin D, led by Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. This study, involving over 25,000 participants, set out to explore the effects of 2,000 IUs of Vitamin D daily. Contrary to expectations, the study found no significant impact on preventing bone fractures, heart disease, severe COVID symptoms, and other diseases.

Dr. Manson, who once harbored high hopes for Vitamin D, noted in a previous interview, “I do think vitamin D is one of the most promising nutrients for prevention of cardiac disease and cancer, and I believe in it strongly. But the evidence is far from conclusive.” Fast forward to today, and the optimism has waned, replaced by a more grounded view of the vitamin’s capabilities.

The Sunlight Vitamin: Not a Cure-All

Vitamin D, naturally produced by the body in response to sunlight, has been linked to bone health, especially in darker-skinned individuals who may have a reduced ability to produce the vitamin. However, the VITAL study’s findings suggest that supplementation may not be necessary for everyone. As Dr. Manson puts it, “More is not necessarily better,” suggesting that a small to moderate amount of Vitamin D is sufficient for bone health.

Shifting Recommendations

Dr. Clifford Rosen, professor of medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine and an editor at The New England Journal of Medicine, reflects on the evolution of Vitamin D guidance. Initially, a daily intake of 600 to 800 IUs was recommended for most adults, but recent studies have cast doubt on this advice. Rosen, who once contributed to setting these guidelines, now observes a growing body of evidence contradicting the need for widespread Vitamin D supplementation.

The changing narrative around Vitamin D has raised concerns among physicians like Dr. Michele Bellantoni of Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. While the average person may not need supplements, she worries that osteoporosis patients, who often require Vitamin D and calcium supplements for their medications to work effectively, might misunderstand these findings.

Despite the dampened enthusiasm, Vitamin D is not without its merits. The VITAL study showed that taking up to 2,000 IUs a day is not harmful. And while many have turned to Vitamin D supplements, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, the focus might be better placed on lifestyle changes. As Dr. Manson suggests, spending time outdoors and being physically active could be more beneficial than “popping a pill.”

Conclusion and Unanswered Questions

Vitamin D, while not the miracle nutrient it was hoped to be, still holds a place in our health regimen, particularly for those with specific deficiencies or conditions. But for the general populace, the allure of Vitamin D supplementation as a universal shield against disease seems to be fading, replaced by a more nuanced understanding of its role in our health. As the research continues to evolve, so too should our approach to this once-celebrated vitamin. It is important to note that serum levels of Vitamin D are still associated with better health outcomes[1], so it’s important to check your levels and get adequate sunlight (if you can do so safely). Alternatively, consider supplementation, but perhaps only with the goal of boosting serum levels to the healthy range, rather than with expectations of significantly reducing risk of fractures, cardiovascular health, mental health, or all-cause mortality.

Health Hacker’s Regimen

I’m a big believer in encouraging everyone to make their own informed decisions about their health, but I also believe it’s helpful to share my own regimen in case you feel there’s something worth emulating. Here’s how I manage my Vitamin D levels.

  • If possible, stay out of the sun during peak UV times (i.e., 10am - 2pm). This goes a long way in preventing wrinkles, premature aging of the skin, and reducing skin cancer risk. One exception to this is described later below.
  • Regular full panel blood testing which includes Vitamin D. If D levels are low to avg, then I do the following:
    • 10-15 minutes daily exposure to full sunlight during peak UV times while covering areas of the body commonly exposed (i.e. face, neck). An example would be laying out in the sun at noon with shirt off, but covering face, neck, and arms with a towel. This would expose only the chest and stomach, which for me don’t otherwise see the light of day. This allows capture of sufficient Vitamin D while eliminating damage to the skin. Be certain that you are actually covering the areas that you intend to (i.e., the face, neck, and arms).
    • 20-60 minutes of direct exposure using a full spectrum light source, such as those used to stimulate Vitamin D production in pet reptiles. You will need to rig this up yourself and experiment with how long to leave the light on you and at what distance. Again, I recommend shining the light only on areas that don’t normally see the sun, such as the belly or chest. I do this with my shirt off when working alone in the home office. Not recommended at a typical office. :)
    • 2000 IU D3 with K2 daily on winter days with little to no sun exposure (nor equivalent UV light exposure). NOTE: this is only during 3 months of winter.


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