IOM weighs in on vitamin D, calcium intake

WASHINGTON — The Institute of Medicine on Tuesday issued a report on the dietary reference intake levels for vitamin D and calcium at the behest of both the U.S. and Canadian governments. IOM recommended a slight increase in vitamin D intake, but also suggested that the need for either vitamin D or calcium may be overstated.

The majority of Americans and Canadians are getting enough vitamin D and calcium, the committee determined. Some adolescent girls may not get quite enough calcium, and there is a greater chance that elderly individuals may fall short of the necessary amounts of calcium and vitamin D.

“There may be an overestimation of the number of people with vitamin D deficiency because many labs appear to be using cutpoints that are higher than the evidence indicates are appropriate,” the report stated.

However, the Council for Responsible Nutrition answered in a separate press release that large segments of the population have inadequate vitamin D status, citing analyses based on data from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Surveys. Scientific research shows that vitamin D inadequacy has been linked to an increased risk for certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, and other health-related issues, CRN stated.

“While an increase in the recommendations for vitamin D will benefit the public overall, such a conservative increase for the nutrient lags behind the mountain of research demonstrating a need for vitamin D intake at levels possibly as high as 2,000 IU/day for adults,” stated Andrew Shao, SVP scientific and regulatory affairs at CRN. “However, CRN recognizes the challenges … in making broad-based recommendations for an entire population. That is why it is so important for consumers to talk with their doctors or other healthcare professionals, to get their vitamin D levels tested, and determine personalized recommendations that would enable them to increase blood levels of vitamin D as appropriate.”

CRN’s most recent annual consumer survey on dietary supplements, released this past September, indicated that 27% of supplement users take a vitamin D supplement — up from 19% and 16% in 2009 and 2008, respectively.

The report found that most Americans and Canadians up to age 70 need no more than 600 international units of vitamin D per day to maintain health, and those 71 years and older may need as much as 800 IUs.

The amount of calcium needed ranges, based on age, from 700 to 1,300 mg per day, according to the report, which updates the nutritional reference values known as dietary reference intakes for these interrelated nutrients.

"There is abundant science to confidently state how much vitamin D and calcium people need," stated committee chair Catharine Ross, professor and Dorothy Foehr Huck chair, department of nutritional sciences, Pennsylvania State University at University Park. "We scrutinized the evidence, looking for indications of beneficial effects at all levels of intake. Amounts higher than those specified in this report are not necessary to maintain bone health."

The IOM report also stated that while vitamin D is a clear booster for bone health, there is no concrete evidence that vitamin D alone protects against cancer, heart disease, autoimmune diseases and diabetes.

The science on calcium's role in bone health shows that 700 mg per day meets the needs of almost all children ages 1 through 3 years, and 1,000 mg daily is appropriate for almost all children ages 4 through 8 years. Adolescents ages 9 through 18 years require no more than 1,300 mg per day. For practically all adults ages 19 through 50 years and for men until age 71, 1,000 mg covers daily calcium needs. Women starting at age 51, and both men and women age 71 and older, need no more than 1,200 mg per day.

The new report marked the first time the IOM has evaluated the current science to update the nutritional reference values set in 1997.

The report's recommendations take into account nearly 1,000 published studies as well as testimony from scientists and stakeholders. The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Defense and Health Canada.

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