Holy cats! Holy cats! Holy cats! This is BLOODY AMAZING!!!!

Hah. Got your attention, didn’t I? 🙂  Well, I wrote that screaming title for a very good reason, as we shall see in a second…

No matter how many times it happens, I still cannot get used to how the media can take a study and distort it so as to scare/freak out people for absolutely no reason whatsoever…Oh, well, except that a scary story creates more debate and interest than a ho-hum boring story, right? Let’s compare the following headlines (I just invented them to make my point):

Headline 1: “Expert panel says that supplementing with vitamin D and calcium has no benefits and could even be dangerous for our health!!!”

EEEEKKK! I’d better stop taking vitamin D right NOW. Right? Wrong. Let’s have a look at the next headline:

Headline 2: “Expert panel recommends a daily intake of no more than 4000 IUs of vitamin D and no more than 2000 mg of calcium…” Oh, okay, the news isn’t that bad, then…

But “Headline 1” was what screamed back at me (and probably at most people) this morning, when, thanks to a blog reader’s message and to a friend’s post on Facebook, I read an article published on November 29 in the New York Times: http://goo.gl/PFtZr (You might have to register with the Times to view this article…or try doing a Google search for it. The title: “Report Questions Need for 2 Diet Supplements.” Hah.

On the spur of the moment, I jotted down and left a rather irritated comment on my friend’s post, pointing out, among other things, that the Mayo Clinic conducted a study on vitamin D levels and myeloma patients in 2009 (see: http://margaret.healthblogs.org/life-with-myeloma/what-is-multiple-myeloma/myeloma-and-vitamin-d/; in particular, see the link to the Mayo Clinic study, which is the first one listed in my Dec 10 2009 post). This expert panel clearly hadn’t read that study, which demonstrates that patients in advanced stages of myeloma but with normal levels of vitamin D have better outcomes than those who are vitamin D deficient.

After writing that comment, I went to PubMed and did a search for vitamin D. I came up with almost 50.000 entries. Uff. Obviously, since I am also supposed to be doing some work (paid work…), I didn’t have the time to go through any of them…But just the ones on page 1, that is, the most recent ones, showed the many benefits of vitamin D supplementation in a variety of conditions—rheumatoid arthritis and so on.

Well, I had no choice. I set my translation aside for a moment and looked up the original IOM report, the one mentioned in the Times article. It just so happens that it was released yesterday. You can download it here: http://goo.gl/9ppGu This is when I realized that “Headline 2” would have been more appropriate…ah, but not as spicy, eh! 😉

This should teach us a good lesson: whenever scary headlines about a newly-published study or report spread like a poison ivy rash all over the Internet, we should always remember to check THE source of information before panicking or getting mad…

The report (see above link) is only four pages long and isn’t complicated at all, so I urge you to go have a look. Let me just give you an excerpt from page 4: …the committee concludes that once intakes of vitamin D surpass 4,000 IUs per day, the risk for harm begins to increase. Once intakes surpass 2,000 milligrams per day for calcium, the risk for harm also increases. Well, that sounds reasonable to me…and it’s more in line with my invented “Headline 2.” 

Do you remember that outraaaageous study in which a group of older women were given a once-a-year mega dose of vitamin D—100.000 IUs??? The high-dose group, as I recall, was found to be at a higher risk of developing fractures. That vitamin D mega dose study was one of the dumbest things I have ever read. My reaction was: HELLOOOOOO????? Well, it is mentioned in the IOM report…

I mean, let’s say that you have chronic headaches for which you take a daily dose of aspirin. Now, just because aspirin manages to get rid of your headaches, would you swallow the contents of 100 bottles all at once? No, I didn’t think so. Another example (hmmm, these are not great examples, but I am in a hurry, sorry…and I suppose I should apologize for any repetitions, again due to the fact that I need to go back to work…): just because 8 grams of curcumin are doing their best to keep me stable doesn’t mean that I will increase my dose to 300 grams a day…

Too much of a good thing may not be a good thing at all!

Let’s get back to the IOM report. It definitely has some holes in it. For instance, I don’t agree that the benefits of supplementing with vitamin D are restricted to bone health. For us myeloma folks and probably for patients with other types of cancer, the benefits go way beyond that, but hey, don’t take my word for it: go read the Mayo Clinic’s 2009 study.

I wish I had the time right now to address all the points that seem a bit or even very weak to me. Well, the big one, of course, is that there is no mention of how much vitamin D cancer patients (not just myeloma, of course) need. On second thought, there probably is no data on that, which could explain why the experts avoid the issue entirely. But hey, that is a BIG issue…at least for us. And studies such as the Mayo Clinic study cannot and should not be ignored.

Everyone diagnosed with MGUS, SMM or MM should have their vitamin D levels tested. This test really should be part of our routine tests. When I first had my D levels tested, they were amazingly low. I was vitamin D deficient, in other words. As so many of us are, probably without knowing it…

I need to get back to my translation now. Bummer. I would much rather do some research…


  1. Thank you for reacting to this preposterous “medical report”. I don’t think there has been a single death from supplements, but thousands of deaths have been caused by prescription drugs. …But they just can’t get off their high horses with this “dangerous vitamin intake” nonsense. I think Big Pharma is behind this.
    BTW, I believe the “study” on calcium ONLY included subjects who took calcium carbonate alone, without accompanying vitamin K, boron, magnesium, D3, etc. They love to tease apart one variable and then conclude that it does no one any good.

  2. Great information and points well taken… I have been taking curcumin regularly and would never ever think of taking my month’s supply all at once… who was it that said, “Everything in moderation?”

  3. As for everything else, new journalism should be called “sensionalism” – I also jumped at the title and realized the title was actually misleading.
    Can we sue journalists for false advertising? OK – I am joking – well maybe not

  4. you’re quite right, Margaret and so is Marguerite, but maybe I should add one more thing: “if you can’t change people, change yourself” by this I mean that there is little hope I can change the world (I’ve tried and have grown tired!!) but I sure can change my mental images and by now, I’ve understood that one can’t rely on journalists because the ethics of the job seems to have gone. The idea is not to inform but to attract attention and only for a sortwhile, no follow-up most of the time…
    Medicine and sciences in general also fell into the trap. It is now more demanding for the patient to make up his mind just by lack of time to check and re-check all the information available. How many people can afford to
    1. know where to find the studies
    2. read the title + the abstract + the 8-15 pages of technical terms that follow
    3. understand ( ah ah !)
    4. “confront” all the different studies, written before AND understand how they contradict each other, and why
    5. deduce the appropriate behavior for THEMSELVES in particular
    6. last but not least, accept the limits of it all…???
    That’s why social networks are becoming more and more important: we must rely on each other because no one has enough time to sort out all this information …BUT we must also change our expectations on what medicine has to offer and feel more responsible for ourselves , and listen to our bodies and our common sense, no matter what…

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