Yet all of the evangelizing surrounding this vitamin is accompanied by a swarm of skeptics who argue that vitamin D's seemingly magical effects are far overblown. Being naturally leery of anything purported to solve all of my problems in an easy-to-swallow pill, I count myself as one of them. But is my incredulity really justified?
Over the past two decades, hundreds, if not thousands, of studies have been published touting the wide array of benefits offered by the "sunshine vitamin." At the same time, research has discovered that as many as three-quarters of Americans may be deficient in the vitamin. This information has convinced a lot of doctors and scientists that we all should be supplementing Vitamin D.
"Vitamin D may represent the single most cost-effective medical intervention we have today," Dr. Greg Plotnikoff told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Yet other doctors and scientists aren't so sure. Notably, in November 2010 an Institute of Medicine (IOM) panel conducted an in-depth systematic review of over 1,000 studies and found that reducing bone loss was the only definitive advantage of supplementing vitamin D. Moreover, they concluded that much of the research that had been conducted on the topic was unconvincing, lacking large subject groups, controls, randomization, and a placebo. Despite their findings, the panel still recommended that daily vitamin D intake be increased be increased from 200 to 600 international units per day for the majority of the population. Not enough, say vitamin D proponents.
"We have no problem ordering a $1,500 MRI or a $90,000 course of Avastin for cancer," Plotnikoff told the Star Tribune. "Why wait 10 years for randomized controlled trial ... when you can measure, replenish and see right away if it makes a difference?"
In July 2011, the 15,000 member Endocrine Society released recommendations for vitamin D intake which were two to three times higher than the IOM's.
The vitamin D dilemma continues to this day. But many large studies are currently underway which should shed additional light on the subject within the next couple of years.
For now, vitamin D supplementation may merit a try, as long as you don't go bonkers and supplement excessive amounts (>30,000 international units), which can be dangerous. Just don't look to it as a panacea for all your problems.
There is an easier, more natural solution, however. Simply spend more time in the sun.
"We are the first society of cave people," Dr. John Cannell, executive director of the Vitamin D Council, lamented to science writer Bob Berman.
For fair-skinned folk like myself, spending a mere ten minutes under the Sun's radiating, caressing rays will provide ample amounts of the "sunshine vitamin."
(Associated Press photo)