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Is Vitamin D the New Vitamin E?

The Institute of Medicine’s conservative position on vitamin D is understandable given the history of hyped vitamin supplements (vitamin A, beta carotene, folic acid, vitamin C, vitamin E) that turned out worthless or worse.

December 7, 2011 |
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The Institute of Medicine raised their vitamin D recommendations based on a blood level target of 20 (ng/ml) to prevent bone softening disorders such as rickets. Although the Institite’s target of 20 may “prevent the overt skeletal deformities associated with rickets, there is now,” according to a review last year, “overwhelming and compelling data suggesting that the human body requires a blood level of above 30 ng/mL for maximum health.” Dr. Holick bases this assertion on data like this, a graph not of rickets risk, but of colon cancer risk versus vitamin D levels suggesting that the Institute of Medicine’s 20 is good, but 30 or more may be even better if you’re considering vitamin D from the cancer prevention angle instead of just strictly skeletal health.
There are similar graphs for breast cancer risk, multiple sclerosis and other conditions linked to vitamin D status. Instead of going through each lets just jump straight to total mortality. What blood level of vitamin D will enable us to, on average, live longest? Here’s the graph, and as you can see, it’s kind of a U shaped curve.
Not having enough in our bloodstream is associated with higher mortality; but looks like we can have too much as well. So what’s the sweet spot in the middle, the lowest mortality risk? This is the Institute of Medicine recommendation, 20 ng/ml (which translates to the 50 nanomoles per liter you see here). Here’s 30 (75) and this is 40 (100).
So for longevity, around 30 would seem the best target. So one strategy to arrive at a vitamin D recommendation would be to figure out how much sun and/or supplements we might need take to get our levels to 30.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

To help out on the site please email

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. This is the third video in a nine day series on vitamin D. Be sure to check out yesterday's video-of-the-day Evolutionary argument for optimal vitamin D level.

For some context, please check out my associated blog posts: Vitamin D: Shedding Some Light on the New RecommendationsAcai to Zucchini: antioxidant food rankingsEating To Extend Our Lifespan, and Vitamin D from Mushrooms, Sun, or Supplements? 

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. This is the third video in a nine day series on vitamin D. Be sure to check out yesterday’s video-of-the-day Evolutionary argument for optimal vitamin D level.

  • Veguyan

    Looks like taking individual vitamins is not so healthy. I hope taking vitamin B 12 is safe.

    • DrDons

      Hi Veguyan, Yes it appears that taking isolated vitamin supplements is harmful especially in the case of the fat soluble vitamins A & E. Isolated supplement of betacarotene has also been shown to be associated with bad outcomes. Supplemental taking of B vitamins has not shown to be harmful or helpful for otherwise healthy folks. Dr.Greger’s video can provide more information. His recent videos on Vit D help shed light on the newest “craze” of supplementation. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin and is known to be toxic in higher doses. You can supplement Dr. Gregers excellent information by reading an article by Dr. John McDougall in his March 2011 newsletter entitled, Vitamin D: Values for Normal are Exaggerated. The supplement you need to make sure you take is Vitamin B12. See Dr.Gregers video, This can be done by weekly, daily or consuming adequate amounts of B12 supplemental food. The easiest one for me is to take a sub-lingual 2000 mcg tablet as Dr. Greger recommends. So the best way to get your vitamins, minerals and nutrients is eating a whole foods varied plant diet.

  • Heidi Woodruff

    Getting these vitamins from whole foods and your D from the sun seems like the best way.

  • Poxacuatl

    So What’s the conclusion? Is sunshine enough? Is a small amount of supplementation necessary? How much Vit D should I be taking daily, if any?

    • Michael Greger M.D.

      Great questions–I answer them all in the 6 video conclusion of my video series on vitamin D. Click on the “Next Up” video in the upper right hand corner of this page to go to the subsequent video.

    • James Kantor

      If you can get in the sunshine for 20 min a day. Then otherwise that wound be enough. I have been taking 2,500 IU for serveral year.
      You can and should get a blood test for Vitiman D, then you will know for sure.

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    For some context, please check out my associated blog post Vitamin D: Shedding Some Light on the New Recommendations!

  • Ronald Chavin

    The following supplements are now known to be harmful except in special situations: vitamin A (retinol), beta carotene, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), vitamin B9 (folic acid), vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol), acetyl-L-carnitine (triggers TMAO), and the pro-oxidant minerals iron, copper, manganese, and aluminum.
    The following supplements are usually only slightly beneficial: vitamin C (increases blood glutathione by 50% but increases heme iron absorption), calcium (causes calcified arteries), selenium (very beneficial antioxidant in theory but little or no benefit in practice), vitamin K1 (no benefit to bone health as had been hoped but surprisingly prevents cancer), astaxanthin (most powerful carotenoid antioxidant performed not quite as wonderful as expected), and fucoxanthin (works well in animals but may not work in humans)
    The following supplements have been shown to be extremely beneficial: vitamin B12 (even meat eaters should swallow vitamin B12 pills to prevent brain shrinkage), vitamin D2 or vitamin D3 (aim for 24ng/mL to 34ng/mL, which is the same as 60nmol/L to 85 nmol/L), vitamin K2/MK-7 (removes calcium from calcified arteries and puts calcium into bones to effectively prevent future bone fractures), tocotrienols (powerful fat-soluble antioxidants), vitamin PQQ, nattokinase (melts away blood clots), long-chain omega-3s (from krill oil, fish oil, or algae), conjugated linoleic acid, forskolin, astragalus, Korean red ginseng, psyllium husk, amalaki, triphala, zinc, benfotiamine, alpha-lipoic acid, and probiotics (lactobacilli, bifidobacteria, and bacillus subtilis natto).