Vitamin D Council Celebrates its 15th Year Anniversary

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The Vitamin D Council celebrates 15 years of supplying information to physicians, researchers and the general public. What effect have we had, if any, on vitamin D practices of the three audiences we targeted?

Celebrating 15 years of vitamin D education

Research about vitamin D, physicians checking vitamin D levels and people taking vitamin D have surged in the last 15 years, which is when the Vitamin D Council started its educational activities.

On June 20, 2003 the Vitamin D Council (VDC) started educating the lay public, physicians and especially scientists about the importance of vitamin D. The VDC used a variety of controversial tactics early on, for example, an email mining program that crawled websites gathering emails. We obtained emails of thousands of scientists at the NIH, Centers for Disease Control and Rehabilitation and most of the 126 U.S. medical schools and began contacting researchers to interest them in studying, researching, and publishing vitamin D studies.

Targeting practicing physicians was more difficult. We targeted educational mailings to those specialties likely to be interested, such as endocrinologists and orthopedists. During that 15 years, Dr. Cannell wrote 29 peer-reviewed journal articles, including landmark articles on vitamin D and influenza (2005), athletic performance (2007) and - autism (2008).

The three VDC’s landmark publications have significant scientific support. For example, a recent British Medical Journal meta-analysis found vitamin D reduces the incidence of colds and flu. A clinical trial in UK athletes found vitamin D improved both sprint times and jump height. And, five studies (one, two, three, four, five), totaling over half a million subjects, all reported that low levels of vitamin D during pregnancy is associated with a substantially increased relative risk (RR up to 4.0) of the offspring developing autism, which is exactly what Cannell predicted in his 2007 autism paper.

To educate the lay public we built our website designed to be easy to use, technically friendly and interesting. Today our website has more than 20,000 pages. Dr, Cannell wrote more than 1400 blogs on such a wide variety of topics. For example, reader, do you know what the US military discovered about the role vitamin D plays in reducing tissue damage from mustard gas or vitamin D's role in saving the New Zealand Kakapo from extinction and the really weird AMA approved cure that time forgot, Knott hemoirradiation.

It is harder to measure any good we might have done, so let’s look at some statistics. Our website has had 106,038,085 page views. In 2003, when we began, scientists published 1,009 scientific articles about vitamin D. By 2017, that yearly number almost quadrupled to 3,881. To date, scientists have published a total of 76,516 vitamin D articles in the peer reviewed literature. A famous poll taken at the 2011 meeting of about 300 vitamin D scientists by the late Professor Robert Heaney showed the scientists were taking an average of 5,000 IU/day.

The percentage of Americans taking a vitamin D supplement jumped about 600 percent between 1999 and 2014, the last year surveyed. The dose consumed also increased; use of 1,000 IU/day went from 0.3% in 2000 to 18% in 2014 while daily use of 4,000 IU/day went from 0.1% to 3.2 %. In 2015, vitamin D was the second most commonly consumed supplement in 2014, after multivitamins, and may have already replaced them as the most common supplement Americans consume.

Finally, did we have any effect on the vitamin D practice of American physicians? From 2000 to 2010, the last year surveyed, the volume of vitamin D tests ordered by American physicians increased an amazing 83-fold and continues to grow. Who does not have a friend or relative whose doctor found vitamin D deficiency on routine screening. Such testing is quickly becoming a part of a yearly physical and is so common labs are planning to add it to routine health panels.

As the VDC celebrates our 15th anniversary, we continue to believe vitamin D is qualitatively different than any other vitamin. The body metabolizes it into a seco-steroid hormone which, like all steroids, regulates genetic transcription, a basic and profound mechanism of action unlike any other vitamin. To date, scientists have found the vitamin D receptor in 33 human tissues including multiple areas in the brain, heart, gut, muscle, and breast. After 15 years, we believe more than ever that vitamin D is game changer for human health and - together with not smoking – and obtaining adequate vitamin D levels is the single most important health decision Americans can make.

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John J Cannell MD
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