Avoid Super High Doses of Vitamin D

A recent vitamin D trial drew headlines for its unexpected finding that a very high dose of vitamin D increased fracture and fall risk in older women. (1) The trial’s vitamin D dose—500,000 IU taken in a once-a-year pill—was much higher than previously tested in an annual regimen. After up to 5 years of treatment, women in the vitamin D group had a 15 percent higher fall risk and a 26 percent higher fracture risk than women who received the placebo.

It’s possible that giving the vitamin D in one large dose, rather than in several doses spread throughout the year, led to the increased risk. (1) The study authors note that only one other study—also a high-dose, once-a-year regimen—found vitamin D to increase fracture risk; no other studies have found vitamin D to increase the risk of falls. Furthermore, there’s strong evidence that more moderate doses of vitamin D taken daily or weekly protect against fractures and falls—and are safe.

So what is the significance of this study for people who want to take vitamin D supplements? A reasonable conclusion would be to continue taking moderate doses of vitamin D regularly, since these have a strong safety record, but to avoid extremely high single doses. This recent finding does present a challenge to scientists who will work to understand why the extreme single dose appears to have adverse effects.

References

1. Sanders KM, Stuart AL, Williamson EJ; et al. Annual high-dose oral vitamin D and falls and fractures in older women: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2010;303:1815-1822.

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