Should You Get the Flu Shot This Year?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Flu Shot

The Truth About The Flu Shot

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

should you get the flu shot this year little girl sneezingShould you get the flu shot this year?

It is the worst of times. The flu virus is particularly deadly this year. Flu deaths are piling up. On the other hand, the flu vaccine is only about 10% effective. The medical community is pointing to the mounting death toll and telling us everyone should get a flu shot. Opponents of the flu vaccine are pointing to its limited effectiveness and saying: “Why bother. The risks outweigh the benefits.” As usual, the truth is somewhere in between.

When you examine the scientific literature it is clear that:

  • The risks of the flu shot have been greatly exaggerated.
  • The benefits of the flu shot have been greatly exaggerated.
  • The medical profession has not leveled with us about the real reason they recommend that everyone get a flu shot.

Is The Flu Shot Safe? 

should you get the flu shot this year safetyThe greatest fear of vaccination for children has been the claim that the flu vaccine causes autism. It is easy to understand how the hypothesis arose that vaccinations and autism might be linked.  This is because the first symptoms of autism usually appear around the time that children are completing their initial series of vaccinations.

However, clinical research has not substantiated any causal relationship between vaccinations and autism. It isn’t that scientists haven’t looked.  A few clinical studies have looked for a link between vaccinations and autism and have failed to find any. The age of onset and prevalence of autism are virtually identical in vaccinated and unvaccinated children.

Another frequently mentioned concern is the toxic adjuvants added to flu vaccines to make them more effective. The rationale for adding these compounds is complex, so let me give you a simple, non-scientific explanation.

We can think of adjuvants as toxins (for example, formaldehyde and aluminum). When our cells sense the presence of those toxic materials, they send out distress signals that, among other things, signal our immune system to mobilize its army to destroy any invaders. Our immune system then sends out scouts to check for invaders. These scouts sense the inactivated virus particles in the flu vaccine and signal our immune system to mount a vigorous immune response whenever those virus particles are detected.

Proponents of the flu vaccine will tell you the vaccine contains only small amounts of these toxins and most of us accumulate far higher amounts of these toxins from other sources in our day-to-day living. Personally, I dislike the idea of purposely ingesting any amount of toxins. However, our food supply has become contaminated and regulation of consumer goods has become weak. Unfortunately, the proponents of the flu vaccine are correct in saying our overall exposure to these toxins is much larger than what we accumulate through vaccinations.

Finally, most vaccines still contain mercury as a preservative, and mercury is a neurotoxin. So, if you are getting your child vaccinated, I recommend that you insist on getting a mercury free vaccine. You may also want to inquire about the adjuvants, preservatives and additives in the flu vaccine as well, because some of them are also toxic.

Beyond that, the biggest concerns are severe allergic reactions and an autoimmune response called Guillian-Barré syndrome which causes symptoms ranging from muscle weakness and fatigue to partial paralysis. These side effects are real, and they are serious, but they are also quite rare. They affect somewhere between 1 in a million to 1 in 100,000 children, depending on the vaccine.

In short, the risks associated with the flu shot are real, but they have been greatly exaggerated by some in the media.

Let’s Talk Science

should you get the flu shot this year scienceIt turns out that the benefits of the flu shot have been greatly exaggerated by health professionals and the media as well. However, to properly understand why the messages you hear are a bit misleading, you need to understand some scientific jargon, namely the difference between relative risk and absolute risk.

Relative risk describes the effect of an intervention for people with a certain condition. In this case, relative risk would be the effect of the flu shot (intervention) for people who have been infected with the flu virus (condition). Relative risk is often used in media reports because it magnifies the effect of the intervention. In short, it makes the intervention look really good.

Absolute risk describes the effect of an intervention on the probability that you will develop a certain condition. In this case absolute risk would be the effect of the flu shot on you actually getting the flu. Since this takes into account your probability of being infected by the flu virus as well as the relative risk reduction once you have become infected, it is a much smaller number. Absolute risk is a much better measure of the actual benefit you can expect to receive.

Finally, there is another factor that is usually overlooked. The flu vaccine is not affected by flu-like illnesses. Thus, the effectiveness of the flu shot at preventing you from getting sick is even lower than its effectiveness at preventing the flu. The average person cannot distinguish between the flu and a flu-like illness. That is why so many people will tell you: “I got a flu shot, but I got the flu anyway.”

Doctors also cannot distinguish with certainty between the flu and a flu-like illness unless they take a blood sample and test for the presence of the flu virus, which is almost never done. For that reason, reports of flu deaths are overestimates.

 

Should You Get the Flu Shot This Year Because it is  Effective?

should you get the flu shot this year effectiveThere is always year to year variation in the severity of the flu and the effectiveness of flu vaccines.

In addition, there is also significant variation in both the efficacy and evidence for efficacy in different population groups that is generally not acknowledged during the annual campaigns recommending that everyone should get a flu shot. To better understand that, we need to look at the efficacy of the flu shot in each population group individually.

 

Is The Flu Shot Effective in Children Age 6 Months To 2 Years?

 

In 2010, the US Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices began recommending flu vaccination for all healthy children older than 6 months. However, in 2012 the Cochrane Collaboration conducted a systematic review of all published clinical studies and concluded that for children in that age group currently licensed flu vaccines “are not significantly more effective than placebo”. [To fully understand the significance of that statement you need to know that the Cochrane Collaboration is an independent, non-profit organization that promotes evidence-based medicine. In fact, in the medical community Cochrane Collaboration systematic reviews are considered to be the gold standard for evidence-based medicine.]

Summary: This is one of the groups at greatest risk for developing severe complications to the flu, so it is disappointing that the flu vaccine is not more effective for this group. I will talk about the best way to protect this group below.

 

Is The Flu Shot Safe & Effective in Healthy Children Age 2 To 7 Years?

 

This is the age group for which immunization makes the greatest sense, and the nasal spray gives the best results for this group.  According to the 2012 Cochrane Collaboration review the flu shot reduces the relative risk of the flu by 48% and the nasal spray with attenuated live virus reduces the relative risk by 83%.

Since around 16% of unvaccinated children catch the flu in an average year this translates to an absolute risk reduction of 3.6% for the flu shot and 17% for the nasal spray. That is a smaller number, but still significant. This, of course, varies from year to year dependent on how well the vaccine matches the strains of virus that are actually circulating through the population. This year those numbers are significantly lower.

Summary: The science behind vaccination for this group has shifted significantly in the past few years. The evidence for the efficacy of the flu shot in this age group has increased while the evidence for harm has decreased. The fear of the flu shot causing autism has been largely disproven by recent clinical studies. That leaves concern about toxic ingredients, severe allergic reactions and the Guillian-Barré syndrome as the major complications of the flu vaccination.

Proponents of the flu vaccinations have estimated that if all children in this age range were vaccinated, around 200 would develop severe complications to the flu shot, and if all children in this age range were unvaccinated 20,000 would develop severe complications from the flu. I have not been able to independently substantiate those statistics. We also need to keep in mind there are rare years, such as during the 1976 swine flu epidemic, approximately 1 in 100,000 vaccinated children developed Guillian-Barré syndrome. The incidence of severe complications to the flu shot could have reached the 2-3,000 range if the vaccination program had not been terminated early.

I realize that this is an emotional issue for parents, and there is no perfect answer. However, at present the weight of evidence is slightly in favor of vaccination for this age group.

 

Is The Flu Shot Effective in Healthy Children Age 8 To 18 Years?

 

According to a recent meta-analysis of all available clinical studies (Oosterholm et al, The Lancet Infectious Diseases, 12: 36-44, 2012), we simply don’t know whether the flu vaccine will be effective in this age group because no reliable studies have been conducted.

Even worse than that, we may never know whether the flu shot offers any protection for this age group because of a Catch 22 situation in modern clinical research. Once a particular treatment becomes “the standard of care” it is considered unethical to withhold that treatment in a clinical trial. Since the CDC is now recommending the flu shot for everyone over age 2, it would be considered unethical to conduct a clinical trial in which half the population received flu shots and half did not.

Summary: I suspect that the flu shot may offer some protection in this age group, but there is no convincing clinical evidence to support that belief at present and for the foreseeable future.

 

Is The Flu Shot Effective in Healthy Adults Age 18 To 65 Years?

should you get the flu shot this year seniorsHere the answer is yes. According to a 2012 meta-analysis of 31 published clinical studies (Oosterholm et al, The Lancet Infectious Diseases) the flu shot gives an impressive 75% reduction in the relative risk of catching the flu. However, in an average year only 4% of this population will catch the flu if unvaccinated, so the absolute risk reduction is a modest 3%.

This is also the group that has the least to fear from the flu. Only about 1 in 100 people in this age range develop severe complications as a result of getting the flu, and these are usually the people with severe diseases and/or compromised immune systems. For most healthy adults in this age range, the flu is merely a one or two-day inconvenience.

Summary: For healthy adults in this age range, the flu vaccine offers only a modest decrease in the absolute risk of catching the flu, and this group has a relatively low risk of developing severe complications from the flu. If the self-interest of this group was the only consideration, it is hard to understand the insistence of the medical community that everyone in this age range get a flu shot. It would appear to be a matter of personal choice.

 

Is The Flu Shot Effective in Seniors Age 65 And Older?

 

Flu shot proponents will tell you that flu shots cut the risk of death in this group by 50% based on a meta-analysis published in 2002 (Vu et al, Vaccine, 20: 1831-1836, 2002).

However, more recent research has come to the opposite conclusion. A recent meta-analysis (Oosterholm et al, The Lancet Infectious Diseases, 12: 36-44, 2012) concluded “Evidence for protection in adults aged 65 years or older is lacking.”  The 2012 Cochrane Collaboration systematic review concluded “Due to the poor quality of available evidence, any conclusions regarding the effects of influenza vaccines for people aged 65 years or older cannot be drawn.”

The lack of protection of the flu virus in seniors is most likely due to the fact that, in many cases, their immune systems have weakened with age.

Summary: This is another group where you would most like to see protection by the flu shot. Because this group is likely to suffer severe complications and death from the flu, it is disappointing that the flu vaccine is not more effective for this group.

 

Who Has Most to Fear From The Flu?

 

When you hear that the flu shot significantly reduces the risk of severe complications and death from the flu, you should know that the risks are not spread evenly over the population. The very young are at risk because their immune systems haven’t fully developed. The very old are at risk because their immune systems have weakened with age and they may already be in precarious health because of other diseases. And, of course, anyone at any age who is in precarious health because of disease or who has a compromised immune system is at risk as well.

 

Why Do Health Professionals Recommend That Everyone Get A Flu Shot?

 

should you get the flu shot this year doctors reccomendIf you are a healthy adult in the 18-65 age range, your risk of severe complications and death from the flu is very low. It is not zero, but it is low. So why are health professionals so insistent that you need to get a flu shot?

The reason is straight forward, but it is not the reason that they are giving you.  It is a public health measure, pure and simple.

The very young, the very old, the sick and the infirm are the ones most likely to develop severe complications and die from a flu infection. However, the flu shot doesn’t offer them much protection because their immune systems are often compromised. The best way to protect those groups is to immunize everyone else. If the flu virus can’t gain a foothold in the rest of the population, those at greatest risk will never be exposed to the flu.

So, the constant warnings that you need to get a flu shot – even in a year in which the effectiveness of the flu vaccine is less than 10% – are less about protecting you than it is about protecting those whom you might infect. Now you know the truth. If you decide to get a flu shot, it will be for the right reason, not the reason you are being given by the medical profession.

The medical profession needs to level with people about why they are recommending flu shots, not use scare tactics that make promises the flu shot can’t deliver. This would be the perfect year for them to come clean because their usual rationale for getting the flu shot doesn’t hold water when its effectiveness is so low.

 

Should You Get the Flu Shot This Year?

 

As you can see, your decision about whether or not the flu shot is the right thing for you is not an easy one. Both the benefits and risks of the flu shot have been greatly exaggerated in the media. I have tried not to be an advocate either for or against flu vaccinations. I have evaluated the scientific literature and tried to give you the unvarnished truth. It is now up to you to make an educated decision – one that is right for you.

I will, however, share my decisions. In prior years, I did not have young children or elderly parents at home who might be compromised if I were to develop even a mild case of the flu. So, I chose to follow the kind of lifestyle that keeps my immune system strong rather than relying on a flu shot to protect me from the flu. Last year when my granddaughter was born, I got the flu shot before going out to California to visit her.

This year the efficacy of the flu shot was so low I didn’t bother with it. It would not have offered me or my granddaughter significant protection. Instead, I have focused on maintaining a strong immune system, I have been exposed multiple times, but so far, my immune system has kept it at bay.

 

The Bottom Line:

 

  • Both the effectiveness and risks of the flu shot have been greatly exaggerated.
  • The flu shot has no proven effectiveness in children ages 6 months to 2 years, children aged 8-18 years, and seniors 65 years and older.
  • In children, aged 2 to 7, nasal sprays with partially inactive flu virus usually give a 17% decrease in absolute risk of catching the flu. Side effects of the flu vaccine in this population group are severe allergic reactions and an autoimmune response called Guillian-Barré syndrome. Both severe complications from the flu virus and side effects of the flu vaccine are very rare, but complications from the flu virus are several-fold more common than side effects from the vaccine.
  • Fears that the flu vaccine could trigger autism have not been validated by clinical studies. However, mercury is a neurotoxin, so I recommend that you insist on mercury-free vaccines for your children. You may also wish to inquire about other adjuvants, preservatives and additives in the vaccine because some of them are toxic.
  • In healthy adults, aged 18 to 65, flu shots give a 3% decrease in absolute risk of catching the flu. This is also the population group with the lowest risk of severe complications from the flu. For most adults in this age group, the flu is nothing more than a one or two-day inconvenience.
  • The groups most likely to develop severe complications and die from flu infections are the very young, the very old, and the sick. They are also the groups least likely to benefit from the flu shot because their immune systems are weak.
  • If you are a healthy adult in the 18 to 65 age group, the constant warnings that you need to get a flu shot are less about protecting you than they are about protecting those whom you might infect if you catch the flu. It is a public health measure to protect the very young, the very old, and the sick. Now you know the truth. If you decide to get a flu shot, it will be for the right reason, not the reason you have been given by the health profession.
  • This year the decision of whether or not to get a flu shot is even more difficult because the flu vaccine offers you and the people you might expose so little protection.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Comments (4)

  • Caroline

    |

    What I have seen is pneumonia and not flu. The flu shot has always been evil due to the chemicals in it, not truly effective and weakens the system to more and harder disease conditions. Pneumonia this year has been horrendous and even my primary doctor and agree that this is what has been killing people. It is also the only vaccination I recommend while all the others are dubious in their contents and results. Today little ones are to taken on some 69 or more vaccinations, all of which weakens their immune system and apparently does affect their yet fully developed brains. Also since the flu is not truly working well for the immune system, most had to return for an ADDITIONAL flu shot. The first flu shot out actually killed my father in 3 days, so I always view it as shooting yourself in the head!

    Reply

  • Leona

    |

    Wow, the facts! How refreshing to have someone layout all the facts in the most unbiased way! SO appreciate it! Thank you.

    Reply

  • Sonja Swanigan

    |

    I do not get flu shots because I had a medical text book reaction in the. 70′ s. A large goose eye sized hive appeared at the sight which was red a very feverish. My doctor told me never to get another flu shot. I am sensitive to eggs. and prefer not to eat them . My adult daughter had a similar reaction several years ago and her doctor not to get any more flu shots. My current doctor keeps pushing flu shots. and insists I need one. I stand my ground and tell him I do not want it. I take Shaklee to boost my immune system and have a fixed getting the flu mos years. Do you have any wisdom to share?

    Reply

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Latest Article

The Truth About Vitamin D

Posted December 11, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Does Vitamin D Reduce Risk Of Heart Disease & Cancer?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

the truth about vitamin dYou have every right to be confused. One day you are told that vitamin D reduces your risk of heart disease and cancer. The next day you are told vitamin D makes has no effect on those diseases. You are told vitamin D is a waste of money. What should you believe?  What is the truth about vitamin D?

In mid-November a major clinical study called VITAL was published. It examined the effect of vitamin D and omega-3s on heart disease and cancer risk. Last week I wrote about the omega-3 portion of the study. This week I will cover the vitamin D portion of the study.

Once again, if you rely on the media for your information on supplementation, you are probably confused. Headlines ranged from “Vitamin D Is Ineffective For Preventing Cancer And Heart Disease to “Vitamin D Lowers Odds Of Cancer Death.” What is the truth?

The problem is that reporters aren’t scientists. They don’t know how to interpret clinical studies. What they report is filtered through their personal biases. That is why I take the time to carefully evaluate the clinical studies, so I can provide you with accurate information. Let me sort through the dueling headlines and give you the truth about vitamin D, cancer, and heart disease.

How Was The Study Designed?

the truth about vitamin d studyThe VITAL study (JE Manson et al, New England Journal of Medicine, DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1811403) enrolled 25,871 healthy adults (average age = 67) in the United States. The study participants were 50% female, 50% male, and 20% African American. None of the participants had preexisting cancer or heart disease. The characteristics of the study group were typical of the American population at that age, namely:

  • The average BMI was 28, which means that most of the participants were significantly overweight.
  • 7% of them had diabetes.

Study participants were given questionnaires on enrollment to assess clinical and lifestyle factors including dietary intake. Blood samples were taken from about 65% of the participants to determine 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels (a measure of vitamin D status) at baseline and at the end of the first year. The participants were given either 2,000 IU of vitamin D/day or a placebo and followed for an average of 5.3 years.

There were two important characteristics of the participants in this study that may have influenced the outcome.

  • The average 25-hydroxyvitamin D level of participants at the beginning of the study was 31 ng/ml (78 nmol/L). The NIH considers 20-50 ng/ml (50-125 nmol/L) to be the optimal level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D for most physiological functions. This means that study participants started in the middle of the optimal range with respect to vitamin D status.

[Note: The NIH defines the 20-50 ng/ml range as “adequate.”  However, I know many of my readers like to aim beyond adequate to reach what they consider to be “optimal.”  In the case of vitamin D, that might not be a good idea. The NIH considers anything above 50 ng/ml as associated “with potentially adverse effects.”  For that reason, I will refer to the 20-50 ng/ml range as optimal for this article. I wouldn’t want to encourage my readers to be aiming for above 50 ng/ml.]

  • Only 12.7% of participants had 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels below 20 ng/ml, which the NIH considers to be inadequate. The results with this group were not statistically different from the study participants with optimal vitamin D status, but it is not clear that there were enough people in this subgroup for a statistically valid comparison with participants starting with an optimal vitamin D status.
  • At the end of the first year, 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels in the treatment group increased to 42 ng/ml (105 nmol/L), which is near the upper end of the optimal range. Thus, for most of the participants, the study was evaluating whether there was a benefit of increasing vitamin D status from the middle to the upper end of the optimal range.
  • The study allowed subjects to continue taking supplements that contained up to 800 IU of vitamin D. While the authors tried to correct for this statistically, it is a confounding variable.

Does Vitamin D Reduce The Risk Of Cancer?

 

the truth about vitamin d and cancerYou may remember from last week that omega-3s were more effective for reducing heart disease risk than for reducing cancer risk. What is the truth about vitamin D and cancer risk?   The results are reversed for vitamin D, so I will discuss cancer first.

The study reported that vitamin D supplementation did not reduce a diagnosis of invasive cancer of any type, breast cancer, prostate cancer, or colon cancer during the 5.3-year time-period of this study. This was the result that was reported in the abstract and was what lazy journalists, who never read past the abstract, reported.

However, the rest of the study was more positive. For example, occurrence of invasive cancer of any type was reduced by:

  • 23% in African-Americans.
  • 24% in patients with a healthy body weight.

Several previous studies have suggested that vitamin D may be more effective at preventing cancer in people with a healthy body weight, but the mechanism of this effect is currently unknown.

Most previous studies have not included enough African-Americans to determine whether they respond more favorably to vitamin D supplementation. However, African-Americans have a higher risk of cancer, so this finding deserves follow-up.

In addition, when the study looked at deaths from cancer, the results were very positive. For example:

  • Cancer deaths during the 5.3-year study period were reduced by 17%.
  • The longer vitamin D supplementation was continued the more effective it became at reducing cancer deaths. For example,
  • When the authors excluded cancer deaths occurring during the first year of supplementation, vitamin D reduced cancer deaths by 21%.
  • When the authors excluded cancer deaths occurring during the first two years of supplementation, vitamin D reduced cancer deaths by 25%.

Finally, no side effects were noted in the vitamin D group.

 

Does Vitamin D Reduce The Risk Of Heart Disease?

 

the truth about vitamin d and heart diseaseThe VITAL study also looked at the effect of vitamin D on heart disease risk. What is the truth about vitamin D and heart disease?  The results from this study were uniformly negative. There was no effect of vitamin D supplementation on all major cardiovascular events combined, heart attack, stroke, or death from heart disease. Does that mean vitamin D has no role in reducing heart disease risk? That’s not clear.

The authors had a thought-provoking explanation for why the results were negative for heart disease, but positive for cancer. Remember that the participants in this trial started with a 25-hydroxyvitamin D level of 31 ng/ml and increased it to at least 42 ng/ml with vitamin D supplementation.

The authors stated that previous studies have suggested the 25-hydroxyvitamin D level associated with the lowest risk for heart disease is between 20 and 25 ng/ml. If that is true, most of the participants in this trial were already in the lowest possible risk for heart disease with respect to vitamin D status before the study even started. There would be no reason to expect additional vitamin D to further reduce their risk of heart disease.

In contrast, the authors said that previous studies suggest the 25-hydroxyvitamin D level associated with the lowest risk of cancer deaths is above 30 ng/ml. If that is true, it would explain why vitamin D supplementation in this study was effective at reducing cancer deaths.

However, previous placebo-controlled clinical studies have also been inconclusive with respect to vitamin D and heart disease. My recommendation would be to think of adequate vitamin D status as part of a holistic approach to reducing heart disease – one that includes a heart-healthy diet and a heart-healthy lifestyle – rather than a “magic bullet” that decreases heart disease risk by itself.

As for heart-healthy diets, I discuss the pros and cons of various diets in my book, “Slaying The Food Myths.”  As I discuss in my book, the weight of scientific evidence supports primarily plant-based diets that include omega-3s as heart healthy. As an example, the Mediterranean diet is primarily plant-based and is rich in healthy oils like olive oil and omega-3s. It is associated with reduced risk of both heart disease and cancer.

 

What Is The Truth About Vitamin D?

 

the truth about vitamin d signThere is a lot of confusion around the question of whether vitamin D reduces the risk of cancer. This study strengthened previous observation suggesting that vitamin D supplementation decreases cancer deaths. However, it is also consistent with previous studies that have failed to find an effect of vitamin D on cancer development. How can we understand this apparent discrepancy? The authors provided a logical explanation. They pointed out that:

  • Cancer development takes 20-30 years while this clinical study lasted only 5.3 years. That means that vitamin D supplementation only occurred at the tail end of the cancer development process. In fact, the cancer was already there in most of the patients in the study who developed cancer. It just had not been diagnosed yet. In the words of the authors: “Given the long latency for cancer development, extended follow-up is necessary to fully ascertain potential effects [of vitamin D supplementation].”
  • In contrast, none of the patients had been diagnosed with cancer when they entered the trial. That means that the patients were diagnosed with cancer during the 5.3-year study period. They were receiving extra vitamin D during the entire period of cancer treatment. Thus, the effect of vitamin D on reducing cancer deaths was easier to detect.

What Does This Study Mean For You?

the truth about vitamin d questionsVitamin D Is Likely To Decrease Your Risk Of Dying From Cancer: When you combine the results of this study with what we already know about vitamin D and cancer, the results are clear. Vitamin D appears to reduce your risk of dying from cancer. More importantly, the longer you have been supplementing with vitamin D, the greater your risk reduction is likely to be.

Vitamin D May Decrease Your Risk Of Developing Cancer: Association studies suggest that optimal vitamin D status is associated with decreased cancer risk, especially colon cancer risk. However, the long time for cancer development means that we may never be able to prove this effect through double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials.

Holistic Is Best: When you combine the VITAL study results with what we already know about vitamin D and heart disease, it appears that supplementing with vitamin D is unlikely to reduce your risk of developing heart disease unless you are vitamin D deficient. However, a holistic approach that starts with a healthy, primarily plant-based diet and makes sure your vitamin D status is adequate is likely to be effective.

The same is likely true for cancer. While the latest study suggests that vitamin D supplementation reduces your risk of dying from cancer, those vitamin D supplements are likely to be even more effective if you also adopt a healthy diet and lifestyle.

How Much Vitamin D Do You Need? The optimal dose of vitamin D is likely to be different for each of us. One of the things we have learned in recent years is that there are significant differences in the efficiency with which we convert vitamin D from diet and/or sun exposure into the active form of vitamin D in our cells. Fortunately, the blood test for 25-hydroxyvitamin D is readily available and is widely considered to be an excellent measure of our vitamin D status.

I recommend that you have your blood level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D tested on an annual basis. Based on the best currently available data, I recommend you aim for >20 ng/ml (50 nmol/L) if you wish to minimize your risk of heart disease and >30 ng/ml (75 nmol/L) if you wish to minimize your risk of cancer. If you can achieve those levels through diet and a multivitamin supplement, that is great. If not, I would recommend adding a vitamin D supplement until those levels are achieved.

Finally, you shouldn’t think of vitamin D as a magic bullet. If you are a couch potato and eat sodas and junk food, don’t expect vitamin D to protect you from cancer and heart disease. You should think of maintaining adequate 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels as just one component of a holistic approach to healthy, disease-free living.

 

The Bottom Line

 

There is a lot of confusion around the question of whether vitamin D reduces the risk of cancer and heart disease. A major clinical study has just been published that sheds light on these important questions. It reported:

  • Vitamin D did not decrease the risk of developing cancer during the 5.3-year study duration. The authors pointed out that cancer takes 20-30 years to develop, which means their study was probably too short to detect an effect of vitamin D on the risk of developing cancer.
  • Vitamin D did decrease the risk of dying from cancer, and the longer people were supplementing with vitamin D the bigger the protective effect of vitamin D was.
  • Vitamin D did not decrease the risk of heart disease. However, most study participants had a level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D that was optimal for reducing the risk of heart disease at the beginning of the study. There was no reason to expect that extra vitamin D would provide additional benefit.
  • With respect to both cancer and heart disease the best advice is to:
    • Get your 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels tested on an annual basis and supplement, if necessary, to keep your 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels in what the NIH considers to be an adequate range (20-50 ng/ml).
    • We do not have good dose response data for the beneficial effects of vitamin D on heart disease and cancer. However, according to this article, previous studies suggest you may want to am for 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels above 20 ng/ml to reduce the risk of heart disease and above 30 ng/ml to reduce your risk of cancer.
    • Consider vitamin D as just one component of a holistic approach to healthy, disease-free living.

For more details about the interpretation of these studies and what they mean for you, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

 

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