A meta-analysis that found that vitamin D supplements have no beneficial effect on bone density has drawn intense criticism from Australian experts, who say the study’s conclusions could have “dire consequences” for public health.
The study, financed by the New Zealand Health Research Council and led by Prof. Ian Reid of Auckland University’s Bone Research Group, suggested that the widespread use of vitamin D supplements to prevent osteoporosis in healthy adults was unnecessary.
The results of the study, which involved a systematic review and meta-analysis of 23 studies assessing the effects of Vitamin D on bone mineral density in healthy adults, were published online last week in The Lancet .
Vitamin D use ‘inappropriate’
“Our data suggest that the targeting of low-dose vitamin D supplements only to individuals who are likely to be deficient could free up substantial resources that could be better used elsewhere in health care,” said Reid.
"Continuing widespread use of vitamin D for osteoporosis prevention in community-dwelling adults without specific risk factors for vitamin D deficiency seems inappropriate.”
However, according to the Complementary Healthcare Council of Australia, the research had “serious limitations” and with its conclusions suggesting that healthy adults don’t need to take vitamin D supplements.
“This meta-analysis looks at the effects of vitamin D supplementation without co-administration of calcium on the effects of fracture prevention,” said the CHC in a statement.
“This is a serious limitation as scientific literature supports that vitamin D and calcium work together to provide a protective effect for helping to prevent osteoporosis.”
Ignores wider benefits
Across the Pacific, the United States Council for Responsible Nutrition has taken a similar stance, with its vice-president of scientific and regulatory affairs, Duffy MacKay, saying “one of the serious limitations of this meta-analysis was the lack of consideration of studies that looked at how vitamin D and calcium work together.”
The CHC has added that the meta-analysis was further limited as it only looked at the effect of vitamin D supplementation on bone health.
“A large body of scientific literature shows that vitamin D plays an important role in other areas, such as cardiovascular health, immune health and diabetes,” said Carl Gibson, the CHC’s chief executive.
“We shouldn’t be throwing the baby out with the bath water. This study does not provide iron-clad evidence that healthy people should not be taking vitamin D supplements. Furthermore, while some people may regard themselves as healthy they still might not have optimal levels of vitamin D.”
Gibson advised consumers that the meta-analysis shouldn’t discourage healthy people from taking vitamin D for all its possible benefits, and should not stop doctors and other healthcare practitioners from continuing to test vitamin D levels.