For Pete's Sake, Stop Taking Vitamin D Supplements!

Way back in 2014, I wrote a column about vitamin D supplements, explaining that they don’t work. I added vitamin D to my previous list, the Top 5 Vitamins That You Should Not Take, to create a list of 6 useless vitamin supplements.

Together, these two columns had well over 1,000,000 views. And yet it seems the message didn’t get through. Well, now a massive new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that I was right all along: taking vitamin D pills isn't good for you. Let’s review the findings, shall we?

In 2014, I wrote about two studies, both published in The Lancet. The first paper, a massive review of 462 other studies, concluded that taking supplemental vitamin D did not help to prevent heart disease, weight gain, mood disorders, multiple sclerosis, and metabolic disorders, all of which had been linked to lower vitamin D. Nope, they said: it appears that low levels of vitamin D are a result of bad health, not the cause.

Ah, you might be thinking, but vitamin D is mostly about bone health, right? Well, the second study that I wrote about in 2014 looked precisely at that question. That paper concluded that vitamin D supplements do not improve bone density, and they do not reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

In other words, vitamin D supplements are a complete waste of money.

Nonetheless, people keep taking vitamin D, and doctors in the U.S. continue to recommend it (based on published guidelines that urgently need revision), on a very large scale.

So now we’ve spent millions of dollars on a huge new trial, which followed nearly 26,000 men and women for more than 5 years, to see if vitamin D supplements would do anything to prevent bone fractures. (And by “we” I mean U.S. taxpayers, who funded this study through grants from the National Institutes of Health.)

The result: people who took vitamin D had exactly the same risk of bone fractures as those who didn’t. It didn’t matter how much vitamin D they took, nor did it help if they also took supplemental calcium at 1200 mg per day. And it didn’t help people who had relatively low levels of vitamin D either. Taking vitamin D supplements just didn’t make any difference to anyone.

So we should stop taking vitamin D–but there’s more. In an editorial accompanying the new study, Steven Cummings and Clifford Rosen point out that “More than 10 million serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D tests are performed annually in the United States.” These tests add costs to our already exorbitant health care system, and they don’t provide patients with any benefit.

Cummings and Rosen put it bluntly: “providers should stop screening for 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels or recommending vitamin D supplements, and people should stop taking vitamin D supplements to prevent major diseases or extend life.” Or as my Hopkins Eliseo Guallar, Lawrence Appel, and Edgar Miller wrote back in 2013, “Enough is enough: stop wasting money on vitamin and mineral supplements.”

At the top of this article I mentioned that my list of useless vitamin supplements has 6 vitamins on it, so here they are:

  1. Vitamin C
  2. Vitamin A and beta carotene
  3. Vitamin E
  4. Vitamin B6
  5. Multi-vitamins
  6. Vitamin D

If you want to know the science behind the other 5, take a look at my column on The Top Five Vitamins You Should Not Take.

Finally, I should point out that although routine supplementation is worthless and megadoses of vitamins can be harmful, if you think you have a vitamin deficiency, consult with your doctor. Serious vitamin deficiencies might be the result of other health problems that your doctor can help you address, and treatments for specific conditions or diseases may include vitamins.