D D, We Hardly Knew Ye

A few years ago I was caught up in the vitamin D craze.

You may remember that for a while seemingly everywhere one looked, folks were recommending taking vitamin D—often in greater than the normally recommended amount—in order to cure or prevent cancer, high blood pressure, heart attacks, tuberculosis, the flu, colds, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and dandruff—among a long list. It was the new miracle drug.

Now normally I wouldn’t get caught up in nutritional fads, but I was hearing good things about vitamin D from several places that I normally respected. Even my primary physician was recommending vitamin D—or at least not discouraging its use.

So I began taking vitamin D supplements and recommending them to anyone who would listen.

And then I started to hear more realistic appraisals of vitamin D from sources that I respected even more. And my primary care physician had changed his tune regarding vitamin D.

So I stopped the supplements.

OverkillBut I never knew for certain what had caused the craze.

Now I’m reading Paul Offit’s book Overkill, which I heartily recommend to all and sundry. It takes a look at many common and widely used medical interventions that have been shown to be far more harmful than helpful.

Early chapters deal with common fallacies such as treating a fever (not a good idea) and finishing an antibiotic course (also not a good idea; in general it’s best to stop taking antibiotics once the symptoms clear up).

And now I’m on the chapter dealing with vitamin D. And in a single sentence Offit clears up for me how the vitamin D fad got started:

“As it turned out, people who chose to take vitamin D were more likely to be wealthier, to have health insurance, to visit a doctor when sick, and to exercise; they were also less likely to smoke.” 

That’s why those early studies seemed to present vitamin D as a miracle drug. It’s not. And you probably get more than enough from your diet and modest exposure to the sun.

Oh, and those sources that were recommending vitamin D that I normally respected? I don’t respect them any more. (Yes, I’m talking to you, Steve Gibson and Leo Laporte!)


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