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Are We Overselling The Sunshine Vitamin?


5 Star

Are We Overselling The Sunshine Vitamin?

Our Review Summary

This story helps temper some of the rampant health claims made for vitamin D with information about the nature of the studies giving rise to the enthusiasm.  It is a step in the right direction for helping readers discern between health claims supported by actual clinical trials and those seen in observational studies. 


Why This Matters

 People are bombarded with health claims and learning to question their basis –  how strong is the evidence supporting the claim – is helpful for people so that they can make more informed decisions.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?


The cost of testing for vitamin D levels was provided.  No information about the costs of vitamin D supplements, but we’ll give the story the benefit of the doubt on this one.

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


 The story did not contain any quantification of the potential benefits from vitamin D.  On the one hand, the story mentioned about 12 conditions that might be helped.  On the other hand, JoAnn Manson basically said we don’t really know where the true benefits will be until after the clinical trial is done. That was an appropriate balance or the story.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

 While Dr. Holick is quoted in this story as commenting that   "…there is no downside to increasing your vitamin D intake", he is also a co-author on a 1992 paper in the New England Journal of Medicine documenting a series of deaths due to accidental overdose of vitamin D.   The story did not give any weight to the potential for problems with over-consumption of vitamin D.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?


 The story first presented the assertions of Dr. Holick that vitamin D supplementation had the capacity to prevent a wide range of conditions without substantiating his claim.  This was followed by a more balanced explanation about the limitations of observational studies which have yielded the suggestions about the possible multifaceted roles for vitamin D in maintaining health. 

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


 The story did not engage in overt disease mongering.  Even the suggestion that conditions from Alzheimers’  to autism down to tuberculosis could be avoided with vitamin D supplementation was countered by another perspective.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?


 Several respected experts in the field of vitamin D research and the epidemiology of disease were quoted for this story.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


The story mentioned a variety of sources for obtaining vitamin D. 

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


 The story did mention various means to increase one’s level of vitamin D including supplements, fortified foods, and exposure to sunlight.  It would have been useful to mention that vitamin D is commonly found in multivitamins, and many calcium supplements contain vitamin D as well.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


 The new 5-year NIH study on Vitamin D was emphasized. 

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?


 Does not appear to rely on a press release.

Total Score: 9 of 10 Satisfactory


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