Vitamin D Supplements May Help with Bone Health - For Everything Else, Studies Are Mixed

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
February 16, 2018
Vitamin D Supplements May Help with Bone Disease - For Everything Else, Studies are Mixed

High doses of vitamin D may quickly ease arterial stiffness in certain overweight, vitamin-deficient populations, according to a recent study conducted by the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. Arterial stiffness can in crease your risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke, dementia and renal disease.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean you should begin taking a vitamin D supplement to lower your cardiovascular disease risk. 

Over the last decade, vitamin D has been touted as the rock star of vitamins – a new cure all drug. Deficiencies of this essential vitamin are linked to heart disease, cognitive impairment in older adults, cancer, bone pain and muscle weakness. 

As a result, the percentage of Americans taking more than 1,000 IU of vitamin D every day increased from .3 percent between 1999 and 2000 to 18 percent between 2013 and 2014. And Americans taking 4,000 IU daily or more jumped from 0.1 percent to 3.2 percent, according to a recent study published in The JAMA Network Journals.

There is a good reason for many patients with low vitamin D levels to supplement. Vitamin D’s primary function is bone health. It promotes calcium absorption which helps build and maintain strong bones and blocks the release of parathyroid hormone that reabsorbs bone tissue, causing bones to become thin and brittle. Additionally, it boosts the immune system and contributes to muscle strength and functioning. 

Osteoporosis and bone fractures in the U.S. are on the rise as the number of people dealing with these issues continues to rise. At this point, about one in two women and up to one in four men age 50 and older will break a bone due to osteoporosis, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. 

But beyond osteoporosis, taking vitamin D supplements to solve for depression, fatigue, muscle weakness, heart disease and even some forms of cancer may not be helpful. Studies suggest that vitamin D plays a role in these issues, but they haven’t shown that supplements actually do anything.

“These percentages of people taking a supplement are concerning. Vitamin D has a purpose and if you’re low, a supplement can help prevent health issues,” says Bernard Kaminetsky, MD, medical director, MDVIP. “However, supplements are like medicine – if you’re taking them without a reason or too high of a dosage, it can cause problems.” 

Research has swayed back and forth as to the value of vitamin D supplements to help any condition other than bone health, Dr. Kaminetsky says. The recent study by researchers at Medical College of Georgia, for example, focused on African Americans, who generally have a higher level of vitamin D insufficiency, and may not apply to other populations. 

It’s also important to know that too much vitamin D can be a bad thing.

“Although vitamin D toxicity is rare, it can happen, which is why you need to work with your doctor to test your vitamin D levels and have a valid reason for supplementing,” Kaminetsky says. “Your doctor will probably order 25 (OH) D to determine your vitamin D level and if it’s low, advise a specific dosage of vitamin D3.”  

Supplements are often prescribed for vitamin D deficiency because unlike other vitamins, only a handful of foods are considered significant sources of vitamin D (egg yolks, mushrooms, liver, cod liver oil, shrimp and canned fish like herring, sardines, tuna, salmon). Although your body can produce vitamin D from exposure to sunlight, variables such as time of day, season, geographical location and personal pigmentation affect how much ultraviolet B (UVB) rays your skin absorbs.

“If you’re at risk for osteoporosis or bone fractures, it makes sense to take a vitamin D supplement but only under the direction of a physician,” Kaminetsky says. 

If you have questions about vitamin D, talk to your MDVIP-affiliated doctor. As part of your MDVIP Wellness Program, your doctor can test for 25 (OH) D levels and customize a wellness plan that includes raising your vitamin D levels. Don’t have an MDVIP-affiliated doctor? MDVIP has a nationwide network of physicians. Find one near you and begin your partnership in health »

Similar Posts
Researchers Identify 3 New Osteoporosis Risk Factors / Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES / April 20, 2015

About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

View All Posts By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
Physician Locator
Enter a full address, city, state, or ZIP code. You can also browse our city directory to find physicians in your area.
Enter Doctor's Name