Dr. Michael Holick’s enthusiasm for vitamin D can be fairly described as extreme. The Boston University endocrinologist, who perhaps more than anyone else is responsible for creating a billion-dollar vitamin D sales and testing juggernaut, elevates his low levels of the stuff with supplements and fortified milk. When he bikes outdoors, he won’t put sunscreen on his limbs. He has written book-length odes to vitamin D, and has warned in multiple scholarly articles about a “vitamin D deficiency pandemic” that explains disease and suboptimal health across the world.
His fixation is so intense that it extends to the dinosaurs. What if the real problem with that asteroid 65 million years ago wasn’t a lack of food, but the weak bones that follow a lack of sunlight? “I sometimes wonder,” Holick has written, “did the dinosaurs die of rickets and osteomalacia?”
Holick’s role in drafting national vitamin D guidelines, and the embrace of his message by mainstream doctors and wellness gurus alike, have helped push supplement sales to $936 million in 2017. That’s a ninefold increase over the previous decade. Lab tests for vitamin D deficiency have spiked, too. Doctors ordered more than 10 million for Medicare patients in 2016, up 547% since 2007, at a cost of $365 million. About 1 in 4 adults 60 and older now take vitamin D supplements.
But few of the Americans swept up in the vitamin D craze are likely aware that the industry has sent a lot of money Holick’s way. A Kaiser Health News investigation found that he has used his prominent position in the medical community to promote practices that financially benefit corporations that have given him hundreds of thousands of dollars – including drugmakers, the indoor-tanning industry and one of the country’s largest commercial labs.
In an interview, Holick acknowledged he has worked as a consultant to Quest Diagnostics, which performs vitamin D tests since 1979. Holick, 72, said that industry funding “doesn’t influence me in terms of talking about the health benefits of vitamin D.”
In late 2010, the National Academy of Medicine, a group of independent scientific experts, issued a comprehensive report on vitamin D deficiency. It concluded that the vast majority of Americans get plenty of the hormone through diet and sunlight, and advised doctors to test only patients at high risk of vitamin D-related disorders, such as osteoporosis.
A few months later, in June of 2011, Holick oversaw the publication of a report that took a starkly different view. The paper, in the peer-reviewed Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, was on behalf of the Endocrine Society, the field’s foremost professional group, whose guidelines are widely used by hospitals, physicians and commercial labs nationwide, including Quest. The society adopted Holick’s position that “vitamin D deficiency is very common in all age groups” and advocated a huge expansion of vitamin D testing, targeting more than half the U.S. population.
This story could easily have been about any number of drugs and then there would be no story. However, it’s about an inexpensive, over-the-counter vitamin. Honestly, $936 million dollars in sales only means a lot to Big Pharm if they could have jacked the price with a prescription product and increased their profits ten-fold.
The $365 million dollars in Medicare testing in 2016 is only $36.50 per test, a small price to ascertain vitamin D levels in our elderly population.
Recent research has indicated that vitamin D plays a crucial role in the immune system and is a vital therapy in the treatment of autoimmune diseases like MS, rheumatoid arthritis, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. In addition, new research indicates that 90% of the U.S. population is deficient in vitamin D.
The Nutrition Board allows me to recommend 4,000 IU of vitamin D per day with no laboratory testing to document the need. I highly recommend you supplement vitamin D. I also suggest you have your serum vitamin D levels checked as you are probably deficient.
Source: August 24, 2018 NIH
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