Vitamin D: Back in the News

In March 2011 Euromonitor International reported on new findings and guidelines for vitamin D consumption. This update provides recent research developments that may bode well for vitamin D in the vitamins and dietary supplements market.

Vitamin D research

Vitamin D is well-established as a key nutrient for bone health, but a few new scientific studies have discovered some other exciting potential associations. One of the most prominent of these is a December 2011 Oxford University study in the Annals of Neurology. Researchers found a genetic variant that causes vitamin D deficiency and also seems to be directly linked to multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic disease affecting the central nervous system.

Though more investigation is needed, there is enough evidence to support the implementation of large-scale studies on preventive vitamin D supplementation for MS, particularly in areas with low levels of sunlight like Scotland, which has the highest incidence of MS in the world.

The relationship between obesity and diabetes and vitamin D is another popular research topic. A September 2011 study in the journal Diabetologia found vitamin D intake and circulating levels to be unrelated to the development of type 1 diabetes in young children. Type 2 diabetes, however, may share a connection.

A study in the December 2011 Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that low levels of vitamin D are more common in obese children and that these children have higher degrees of insulin resistance, which is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Additionally, a November 2011 University of Missouri study reported that providing a high daily dose of a vitamin D supplement is safe and effective for obese and overweight adolescents.

This group is commonly deficient in vitamin D because they absorb it in their fat stores, preventing it from being utilized in the blood. Supplementation may also be beneficial for women with low vitamin D levels; a December 2011 study in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology found that women with low blood levels have a 170% higher risk of urinary incontinence than those with higher levels. A November 2001 Harvard University study, meanwhile, discovered that men with sufficient or only mild insufficient blood levels of vitamin D may have a 30% reduced risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

Some news is more ambiguous. Research presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions in November 2011 showed that those with excess levels of vitamin D have a 2.5 times greater risk of developing atrial fibrillation, a condition that affects heartbeat and can cause blood to pool and clot. The study, however, categorized groups of subjects as having low, low/normal, normal, high/normal, and excess blood levels of vitamin D; excess levels compared to normal levels was the only grouping that increased atrial fibrillation risk.

The market size for vitamin D increased 17% in 2011, according to Euromonitor International data, and is expected to grow by 11% in 2012. A July 2011 study published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews may further support this growth. In evaluating vitamin D supplementation for the prevention of adult mortality, it discovered that over-the-counter (OTC) vitamin D (D3) is more effective than prescription vitamin D (D2).

A subsequent review by the Vitamin D Council acknowledged that more research is needed to verify the reason for D3’s superiority, but also advocated that doctors recommend the OTC product. New scientific developments are occurring all the time, but at the moment, vitamin D is winning praise.