Increased Life Expectancy With Vitamin D?

September 5, 2011 By

Increased Life Expectancy With Vitamin D?

Christopher P.F. Marinangeli, PhD, RD
Scientific Regulatory Associate, Dicentra Inc.

Everyone is talking about vitamin D – in the nutrition world anyway. Nutritional scientists, dieticians, and government agencies promote vitamin D as a nutrient that supports bone health; mostly because it increases calcium absorption and the number of “bone building” cells called osteoclasts as well as maintains healthy blood calcium levels. However, recent evidence suggests that vitamin D status can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory infections, respiratory diseases, tuberculosis and diabetes.

In a new study using available ecological and epidemiological data linking vitamin D status to the aforementioned diseases, Grant (2011) calculated that life expectancy can be extended ~ 2 years by increasing serum vitamin D levels from 54 nmol/L to ≥ 100 nmol/L. In addition, it was estimated that increasing circulating vitamin D levels from 50-70 nmol/L to the 105-112 nmol/L range can decrease the economic burden of disease by ~10 %, which is substantial.

Overall, Grant (2011) presents a compelling argument. After reading the author’s thorough review of the literature, which demonstrates inverse associations between vitamin D status and disease, it becomes apparent that the physiological role for vitamin D is much broader than that of bone health. For example, Grant (2011) explains that almost every cell-type in the human body has a vitamin D receptor. Moreover, vitamin D has been shown to modulate levels of cathelicidin, defensin and various cytokines that help mount immunological responses to infectious agents. However, all of the mechanisms by which vitamin D modulates the biological processes that affect the incidence of certain diseases have not been elucidated. Thus, the available epidemiological evidence that demonstrates inverse relationships between vitamin D and disease warrants further research that is focused on deciphering possible mechanisms for how vitamin D reduces disease risk.

Humans get their vitamin D in two ways. First, endogenous vitamin D can by synthesized within the skin via exposure to sun-derived ultraviolet radiation. However, given the association between sun exposure and the incidence of skin cancer, guidelines that quantify the amount of sun required to attain appropriate levels of vitamin D have not been established. Second, vitamin D is obtained from the diet, from vitamin D rich foods (i.e. fish), vitamin D supplementation, or vitamin D fortified foods (i.e. milk and some fruit juices). It should be noted that in the United States milk producers have the option of fortifying milk with ~38.5 IU vitamin D/ 100 ml milk, whereas in Canada, the fortification of milk with vitamin D is required by law at 35-45 IU vitamin D /l00 ml milk (Ross et al. 2011). Canadian and U.S. guidelines for daily vitamin D intake recommend approximately 600 IU/day vitamin D for individuals under 71 years of age (Ross et al. 2011). Grant (2011) advocates that 2000-7000 IU/day vitamin D are needed to increase circulating levels of vitamin D to ~100 nmol/L. However, the Dietary Reference Intake guidelines indicate that that tolerable upper intake level (UL) for vitamin D is 4000 IU/day for males and females over the age of nine. Conversely, a recent risk assessment indicates that vitamin D exposure is safe at levels >10 000 IU/day and that 10 000 IU/day is an appropriate UL for vitamin D (Hathcock et al. 2007). Thus demonstrating controversy regarding the risk of vitamin D toxicity.

Altogether, Grant (2011) presents a convincing and exciting argument for increasing one’s vitamin D intake and, ultimately, circulating vitamin D levels. Despite literature demonstrating inverse relationships between vitamin D status and disease risk alongside a calculated increase in life expectancy of ~ 2 years when serum vitamin D levels are increased to ≥ 100 nmol/L, caution is still necessary because of divisive opinions regarding vitamin D’s UL and the risk of toxicity. Future research investigating mechanisms by which vitamin D modulates processes that reduce the risk of disease is warranted. Until then, any plans to dramatically increase your daily vitamin D intake should be discussed with your doctor.

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Grant WB. An estimate of the global reduction in mortality rates through doubling vitamin D levels. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2011. [Epub ahead of print].
Hathcock JN, Shao AS, Reinhold V. Risk assessment for vitamin D. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007; 85:6-18.
Ross AC, Taylor CL, Yaktine AL, Del HB. and Del Valle HB. Dietary Reference Intakes: Calcium Vitamin D. Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. The National Academies Press. Washington, D.C. 2011.