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Superiority of LED lights over sunlight in producing Vitamin D3 not proven in tissue samples alone

LED lights safer, more effective in producing Vitamin D3 than sunlight

Our Review Summary

This news release from the Boston University School of Medicine covers a study describing a new technology in which ultraviolet (UV) LEDs at a specific wavelength produce more vitamin D in a shorter amount of time in human skin samples compared to natural sunlight. These lights are also a safer alternative than sunlight, the news release claims.

However, the release offers no caution that findings from in vitro skin samples may not necessarily be replicated in living humans and that larger studies are needed to show if the lights make a difference in actual health outcomes that people care about.

We also wish the release had been more cautious in discussing the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency. There’s disagreement among experts over the rate of deficiency, and the effects of vitamin D on conditions other than bone loss needs more research.

We do appreciate the findings being given in absolute terms, since this helps readers judge the treatment’s benefits more accurately.

 

Why This Matters

The prevalence of vitamin D deficiency and its links to certain diseases is a source of continuing debate in the United States.

Since vitamin D deficiency is linked to bone health and future studies may confirm links to other diseases and conditions, health professionals and the public remain interested in interventions to treat vitamin D deficiency.

Criteria

Does the news release adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

Our philosophy: if not too early to talk about a device’s effectiveness, then it’s not too early to start discussing its potential price on the market. And the release claims there “will be” a new generation of marketable products based on this research.

The news release states RayVio’s 293nm UV LED was the most effective out of all the UV LEDs tested in this study. The California-based manufacturer sells its UV LED products online, with unit prices ranging between $6.93 to $68.06 for a single device.

Since costs are not discussed in the news release, we give it a Not Satisfactory rating here.

Does the news release adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The news release states skin samples exposed to RayVio’s UV LED produced “more than twice as much vitamin D3” after 0.52 minutes compared to samples exposed to 32.5 minutes of sunlight.

We applaud the news release for giving readers absolute values for the time instead of providing relative figures. However, we’re not sure from the news release exactly how much vitamin D3 was produced in these samples. And how was this measured? Was there any variation in the amount of vitamin D3 produced depending on the wavelength and skin type?

In the original journal article, researchers looked at the percent conversion from an intermediate chemical compound to previtamin D as a way to measure vitamin D production.

Since benefits data were only half released, we rate this one Not Satisfactory.

Does the news release adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The release gives a nod to harms, although only to discuss how it would reduce risk compared with sunlight exposure. It states: “A vitamin D3 producing UV LED device could be used on skin areas that experience less exposure to sunlight such as upper legs and arms and abdomen and back thus minimizing risk for developing non-melanoma skin cancer. The UV LED device also emits a much narrower band of UVB light and thereby decreasing likelihood of skin damage that can occur when the skin is exposed to higher wavelengths of UV radiation.”

Almost all interventions are associated with potential harms, and light therapy is no different. Although light therapy is considered generally safe, it may cause eyestrain, headache, nausea, irritability or agitation, and mania, euphoria, hyperactivity or agitation associated with bipolar disorder. Specifically, UV light can cause eye and skin damage, as well as increase one’s risk of skin cancer.

Since harms from UV LED aren’t addressed in this news release, we give it a Not Satisfactory rating here.

Does the news release seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

Readers can deduce from the release that this was a controlled study based on the description comparing UV LED vs. sunlight results.

Some things that would have made this release better in terms of evidence:

An acknowledgement that more research is needed to know if these tests in isolated skin samples would achieve the same result in actual living patients. And we’d need even more studies to know if the lights made a difference in actual outcomes that people care about as opposed to a lab value.

Does the news release commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

Without stating the source or elaborating further, the release states that 75 percent of teens and adults in the US are vitamin D deficient. However, noted experts have disputed high claims of deficiency as being a misinterpretation of Institute of Medicine nutrition guidelines.

Being vitamin D deficient in itself is not a disease. It can lead to a loss of bone density, contributing to osteoporosis and fractures. Severe vitamin D deficiency in the US is rare, and the effects of vitamin D on other conditions need to be investigated further.

For these reasons we rate this Not Satisfactory for disease mongering.

Does the news release identify funding sources & disclose conflicts of interest?

Satisfactory

The news release discloses the study’s funding sources, which include the Boston University School of Medicine and a Boston University Ignition Award.

The original journal article states the study authors have no competing interests.

We rate this one Satisfactory.

Does the news release compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

Natural sunlight is the main alternative discussed in the news release, since skin samples exposed to sunlight needed much more time to produce comparable levels of vitamin D3 than those exposed to RayVio’s UV LED. The news release also mentions diet, pointing out that vitamin D is also found in plants, yeast and mushrooms. Other foods containing vitamin D include oily fish — like salmon, mackerel, and blue fish — as well as fortified milk and other dairy products.

Another alternative to treat vitamin D deficiency is oral supplementation.

We feel the news release’s comparison to natural sunlight is enough for a Satisfactory rating here.

Does the news release establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Satisfactory

RayVio already has other UV LEDs out on the market for health and hygiene purposes, but these don’t include the 293nm UV LED — the prototype tested in this study. The news release makes clear that this technology is still being developed, hinting that a “wearable device” could be available to consumers in the future.

We wish the news release had given more information on the types of UV light therapies accessible now for patients, as well as what a treatment session currently looks like.

Since the news release makes clear that the 293nm UV LED technology isn’t widely available, we rate this one Satisfactory.

Does the news release establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

The news release makes it sound as if UV LED therapy is a novel treatment option, since it states “this study will lead to a new generation of technology…labeled as photopharmacology.” It adds that “the use of LEDs with targeted wavelengths can cause specific biologic effects in human skin to help treat and prevent chronic illnesses.”

UV light therapy, also known as phototherapy, has been widely used as an option to treat skin diseases, like psoriasis, T-cell lymphoma, vitiligo and atopic dermatitis. UV lamps to synthesize vitamin D have been around since the 1940s, when the Sperti lamp was available in US pharmacies to prevent and treat rickets.

In addition, UV LED therapy has been previously explored. A 2016 study in Food Chemistry looked into the efficiency of UV LEDs in producing vitamin D3 in pig skin. Another 2014 study published in the National High School Journal of Science also looked at the effect of UV LEDs on vitamin D production.

We especially would have liked more context surrounding UV LED research, which is why we rate this one Not Satisfactory.

Does the news release include unjustifiable, sensational language, including in the quotes of researchers?

Not Satisfactory

We wish the news release had used more neutral, cautionary language, especially in its quotations. Red flags are raised when we see unsubstantiated, extolling phrases, such as “this study will lead to a new generation of technology” and “potentially improve and save hundreds of thousands of lives.” Furthermore, this technology has “enormous” potential.

Therefore, we rate this one Not Satisfactory.

Total Score: 3 of 10 Satisfactory

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