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The Vitamin D Conspiracy

March 19, 2011

I’m rebelling against my vitamin obsession. Whilst pregnant I read too many books, all of which told me about the recent super vitamin in which I, and every other human being, is deficient. Lately the go to vitamin has been D. I’m sure you have heard the news that we must all shun sunscreen because every single person in the entire world is vitamin D deficient. I’ve been left thoroughly confused. I’m a worrier. If sunscreen hinders vitamin D production, how can I simultaneously protect myself against skin cancer and against all the cancers resulting from a vitamin D deficiency? In my confusion, I decided to stop taking anything but a multi-vitamin and keep my sunscreen, yet not be so OCD about applying it for walks around the neighborhood.

A couple months ago, I heard Dr. Bob Sears of the famous Sears family talk about improving the immune system of both adults and babies. As he talked, I realized he was basically recommending we supplement ourselves like crazy. I took notes on the proper amounts of vitamins, especially D, for babies. I’m supposed to give Amelia drops of vitamin D every day (and I usually forget). As Dr. Sears continued his talk, I started to mentally roll my eyes, which surprised me because I think he’s a smart guy and a good pediatrician, at least that is the image I get from his and his father’s books. However, I couldn’t quite understand how it was evolutionary possible for all people to have such a severe deficiency in one vitamin. Sears suggested California moms could become too complacent, thinking our year round sunshine (vitamin D is generated by exposure to the sun) would save us from needing to supplement. Sears said all the sunshine in the world wouldn’t be able to raise our vitamin D levels adequately, but in the next breath he talked about how we should wear less sunscreen because it can block the sunshine necessary for vitamin D. I was so confused by that logic. If no amount of sunshine will help, why not just wear the sunscreen?

At the end of his talk, Dr. Sears accepted questions. The health food store only sat maybe fifty or so people, meaning any question was likely to be answered. I asked about this vitamin heavy method of improving immunity and if, “We are just creating expensive pee?” That question wasn’t meant to be condescending. I have a cabinet full of vitamins. I have a notebook somewhere full of all the dosages I need to take. I’m not by nature a vitamin skeptic. Sears answered that in a perfect world we would get all our nutrition from what we eat, but most of us don’t live in a perfect nutritional world. I thought that was a good answer and is the main reason I still take vitamins at all. But the vitamin D logic was still lost on me. Doctors have been saying all the sun in the world, all the healthiest food options, will not raise our level of that vitamin to anywhere near an adequate level. Sears even suggested we take more than the recommended dosage on the packages. I left that health talk feeling that I had learned quite a bit, but not feeling convinced about vitamin D in particular. I noticed that many of the moms treated Sears as the ultimate source of knowledge, probably because of his reputation and prolific writing career. This bothered me. Pediatricians are sources of information, and good sources at that, but no one doctor has all the answers.

This is all a big anecdotal build up for the vitamin D debunking in a November 29th New York Times article called “Report Questions Need for 2 Vitamin Supplements.” According to the article, “The very high levels of vitamin D that are often recommended by doctors and testing laboratories — and can be achieved only by taking supplements — are unnecessary and could be harmful, an expert committee says. It also concludes that calcium supplements are not needed.” Great. I have three different kinds of expensive vitamin D in my medicine cabinet (Not surprising. I love to follow trends and the sale of vitamin D supplements rose 82% from 2008 to 2009.) Who is this expert committee telling me what intuitively makes sense? It is a “14-member expert committee [that] was convened by the Institute of Medicine, an independent nonprofit scientific body, at the request of the United States and Canadian governments. It was asked to examine the available data — nearly 1,000 publications — to determine how much vitamin D and calcium people were getting, how much was needed for optimal health and how much was too much.”

The title of my blog post is a bit misleading. I don’t actually think we have been subject to a vitamin D conspiracy. Next week another article could knock down the committee’s findings (but I doubt it). I don’t believe people like Dr. Sears are trying to mislead the public in some nefarious plot to boost vitamin sales. But I do believe we as a nation are obsessed with preventing death and disease and colds, an obsession that isn’t necessarily bad, but an obsession that leads us to believe we NEED to take an obscene amount of expensive supplements, that if we don’t put our babies on large vitamin D doses, and that if our babies then get sick, we as mothers are to blame. This onus is usually put on mothers by mothers and not always by the medical establishment. Should we eat more healthily? Absolutely. Should we all have overstocked cabinets full of every imaginable vitamin? It has taken me years to finally answer “Absolutely not.” We can’t vitaminize ourselves or our children against disease. Now go outside in the sun, sunscreen or not, and play. That act will make us all healthier than any vitamin can.

Meredith is a podcasting, blogging, overthinking, military marrying, sorta homemaking, grammatical phrase abusing new mom to a baby girl born April 2010. Besides her blog, you can check out her podcast(Over)Thinking Mom on iTunes.

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