Vitamin D pills for risk groups may be warranted: experts

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Vitamin, Vitamin d

The benefits of vitamin D for brain health may warrant
recommendations for supplements in groups at risk of low levels,
leading American scientists say.

Bruce Ames and Joyce McCann from the Children's Hospital and Research Center Oakland state that the evidence overall indicates that inexpensive and prudent supplementation is warranted for groups whose vitamin D status is exceptionally low, particularly nursing infants, the elderly, and African Americans. The critical review, published in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Journal​, has been heralded by the journal's Editor-in-Chief as a "model of careful thinking about nutrition and behaviour"."One wishes that all studies of nutritional supplements or requirements were this thoughtful. Drs. McCann and Ames deftly show that while vitamin D has an important role in the development and function of the brain, its exact effects on behaviour remain unclear,"​ said Gerald Weissmann, MD. "Pointing to the need for further study, the authors argue for vitamin D supplementation in groups at risk,"​ he added. Voices grow louder for vitamin D ​ The review may increase the need for policy makers to review current guidelines for the vitamin, and could open opportunities for food fortification and supplements. Calls to increase the current recommendations of 200 IU per day for children and adults up to 50 years of age for vitamin D up to 800 - 1000 IU vitamin D3, have become more frequent in both scientific and public circles. Vitamin D refers to two biologically inactive precursors - D3, also known as cholecalciferol, and D2, also known as ergocalciferol. The vitamin can be manufactured in the body on exposure to sunlight and also consumed in relatively low quantities from the diet. However because of the low dietary amounts, and lack of sunshine in northern climates, with some estimates claiming that as much as 60 per cent of northern populations may be vitamin D deficient. In adults, vitamin D deficiency may precipitate or exacerbate osteopenia, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, fractures, common cancers, autoimmune diseases, infectious diseases and cardiovascular diseases. The Oakland-based scientists highlight the role of the vitamin in maintaining brain health, noting the wide distribution of vitamin D receptors throughout the brain. According to the review, the vitamin has been reported to affect proteins in the brain known to be directly involved in learning and memory, motor control, and possibly even maternal and social behaviour. Previous studies in both human and animal models have indicated that inadequate levels of vitamin D may also produce cognitive or behavioural consequences, although the evidence is not conclusive for the moment. By reviewing all the available science, the scientists concluded: "Despite residual uncertainty, recommendations for vitamin D supplementation of at-risk groups, including nursing infants, the elderly, and African-Americans appear warranted to ensure adequacy." Previous calls for intake hikes ​ Last summer, Dr. Michael Holick, a leading US expert from Boston University School of Medicine, called for current recommendations of 200 IU per day for children and adults up to 50 years of age for vitamin D need to be increased to 800 - 1000 IU vitamin D3 (New England Journal of Medicine​, Vol. 357, pp. 266-281). This echoed statements in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition by 15 experts from universities, research institutes, and university hospitals around the world: "We call for international agencies such as the Food and Nutrition Board and the European Commission's Health and Consumer Protection Directorate-General to reassess as a matter of high priority their dietary recommendations for vitamin D, because the formal nationwide advice from health agencies needs to be changed." "The balance of the evidence leads to the conclusion that the public health is best served by a recommendation of higher daily intakes of vitamin D. Relatively simple and low-cost changes, such as increased food fortification or increasing the amount of vitamin D in vitamin supplement products, may very well bring about rapid and important reductions in the morbidity associated with low vitamin D status,"​ they said. "Because of the convincing evidence for benefit and the strong evidence of safety, we urge those who have the ability to support public health-the media, vitamin manufacturers, and policy makers-to undertake new initiatives that will have a realistic chance of making a difference in terms of vitamin D nutrition,"​ wrote the experts (AJCN, Vol. 85, pp. 649-650). Source: Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Journal ​Volume 22, Pages 982-1001 "Review Article: Is there convincing biological or behavioral evidence linking vitamin D deficiency to brain dysfunction" ​Authors: J.C. McCann, B.N. Ames

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