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April 25th, 2016

Doctors may know less about Vitamin D than they’re telling you

By Enrique Rivero

When it comes to Vitamin D, doctors seem to be unreasonably certain about its benefits.

When it comes to Vitamin D, doctors seem to be unreasonably certain about its benefits.

 

In a study published online recently in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, UCLA researchers found that physicians conveyed with certainty to their patients a host of information about the vitamin, including its benefits, the risks of deficiency, optimal blood levels, how much of the supplement to take, and so on. The problem is:  Scientific literature presents equivocal or conflicting evidence about appropriate vitamin D levels and supplementation.

For instance, just last year the United States Preventive Services Task Force noted that the current evidence is “insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms of screening for vitamin D deficiency” in asymptomatic adults. And although the Institute of Medicine and the Endocrine Society both say that routine vitamin D deficiency screenings are unnecessary, each organization has different ideas about what a deficiency even is.

Led by Dr. Derjung M. Tarn, associate professor of family medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, the researchers analyzed 61 doctors’ audio-recorded discussions with a diverse sample of 603 patients in outpatient community- and academic-based practices. The doctors engaged in a total of 166 statements covering vitamin D deficiency screenings, what constitutes a deficiency, optimal vitamin D levels, supplementation dosing and benefits of supplementation.

Of those statements,  160 -- or 96.4 percent = -- were conveyed with certainty, with no mention of contradictory evidence or uncertainty from scientists.

What Does this Mean for the Patient?

“This is important for patients because how doctors make recommendations can influence patient decisions to take vitamin D,” Tarn said.  “When doctors fail to provide patients with complete information, patients don’t have the tools to make truly informed decisions about their care. “

What Should Doctors Do?

“This means that doctors should consider more fully discussing the scientific evidence underlying their recommendations when there is controversy in the medical literature, so that patients can make more informed decisions about taking vitamin D--and other dietary supplements,” she said.

The Take-Home Message

The science isn’t settled on the benefits of vitamin D. So when you're discussing the supplement with your doctor, you might want to ask a few more questions -- such as whether there is any additional information of which you should be aware.

Tags: Dr. Derjung M. Tarn, Enrique Rivero, media, News & Insights, supplements, vitamin D, vitamin D deficiency

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