Headlines Scream “Danger”! What’s the Truth about This Week’s Vitamin D Study?

Vitamin D heart“Vitamin D Warning!” says MSNBC. “High Vitamin D Levels Linked to Serious Heart Condition” says Fox. What could be behind these terrifying headlines?

A new study says that taking excessive amounts of vitamin D may cause atrial fibrillation (AF). The research, presented at the annual meeting of American Heart Association, says that people who take too much vitamin D were 2½ times more likely to develop AF.

Well, not quite. That’s what the media have been saying the study says. But it didn’t. It says that in their study of 132,000 patients, AF was found in 1.4% of the study participants whose levels of vitamin D were normal, and in 3.8% of those whose levels were excessive. But the journalists couldn’t even get the basic facts straight. All the articles contained the same blunder that rendered the data meaningless. Everyone rushed ahead, relying only on the press release or the abstract, where the error originated, without waiting for the study itself to be published in the future.

The amount of vitamin D in the blood is measured in ng/ml—that is, nanograms of the vitamin per milliliter of blood serum. The press release and the study abstract both say, erroneously, that problems arise when vitamin D levels go over 100 ng/dl—that is, nanograms per deciliter. That’s the equivalent of 1 ng/ml. To say that 100 ng/dl is “excessive” is beyond absurd; anything under 30 ng/ml is considered deficient, and 1 ng/ml is next to impossible to achieve! A quick check with the study authors would have corrected that error—which means the journalists knew nothing whatsoever about the subject, and didn’t bother to do any research.

Besides, after correcting for this gross error, there is no real story here—the study merely confirms what scientists already thought:

  • Under 30 ng/ml of vitamin D is clearly deficient;
  • 30–100 ng/ml is the safety range;
  • Over 100 ng/ml, and your risk starts to grow.

The optimum level of D is more often debated. The scientists who seem to us most expert on the subject think that 60 to 80 is optimal.

The authors of this study say the optimum range is 40–80. The trouble with 40 as an optimum is that it probably won’t protect you from getting a virus, although you should be able to handle it better than if your level is lower.

Why is a level over 100 ng/ml ill-advised? The best known risk relates to calcium. Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption in the gut; too much vitamin D results in too much calcium in the blood, or hypercalcemia, which can cause nausea, constipation—and sometimes, yes, even atrial fib. The study authors clearly state, however, that “the extent to which 25[OH] Vit D excess may be associated with AF is unknown.” Moreover, while AF was found 2½ times more often in people with levels of D above 100 than with levels of 80 and below, it’s still not a large percentage—only 3.8% of patients.

Please note that there’s no magical cut-off where you have to race to the hospital if you take too much D. The higher your blood serum level goes over 100, and the longer you’re there, the greater your risk. According to the Vitamin D Council, what exactly constitutes a toxic dose of vitamin D has yet to be determined, though published cases of toxicity, for which serum levels and dose are known, all involve a consistent intake of at least 40,000 IU per day.

It’s really a case of “too much of a good thing,” as Shakespeare put it. There are very few substances under the sun which, when consumed to excess, won’t harm you in the end. Medicines, whether of the natural and herbal variety or the patented and pharmaceutical variety, are dose-sensitive. A few aspirins once in a while (or better yet, white willow bark) can relieve headaches and reduce inflammation; taking a whole bottle will kill you. Heck, even drinking too much water will kill you.

But the media emphasis on too much vitamin D in your system is wrong-headed. The real problem, as indicated by the study, is too much calcium. As we have discussed before, taking calcium without the co-factors has been shown to be bad for the heart—you need vitamin K2 and omega-3 fatty acids (and, for other reasons, magnesium too). Did the news stories mention that?

So if the vitamin D toxicity doesn’t occur until one has clearly overdosed on the stuff for quite a while, why all the scary headlines? “High dose vitamin D pills ‘can double heart condition risk’ ” says one headline. “High vitamin D levels linked to heart condition” says another. Or worst of all, The Atlantic Monthly’s story on the subject, “Are Supplements Killing You? The Problem With Vitamins, Minerals,” started off with this teaser: “In two recently published studies, researchers suggest that supplements can do more harm than good if taken in addition to a healthy diet.” Outrageous horse-pucky.

Another study presented at the same AHA annual meeting, analyzing sixteen years of data gathered from more than 2,000 healthy, postmenopausal women, found a direct correlation between low vitamin D levels and heart problems. About 15 percent of the women with low vitamin D levels either died or suffered heart failure, a heart attack, or stroke during the study period.

Which study do you think got more press attention? You guessed it—the one that was thought to imply that vitamins were dangerous. Which of course was not what the study said at all. For more on what this study really said, you can read the Vitamin D Council’s analysis on their website.

Besides the scramble for ratings and web page “hits,” is anything else behind this anti-vitamin bias? The pharmaceutical industry is investigating a number of different synthetic versions of vitamin D, all of which are being investigated as treatments for various kinds of cancer. Two of them were complete failures. Two others—one specifically for prostate cancer, the other to be used in conjunction with standard chemotherapy—are showing promise. Interestingly, one of the researchers on the panel that produced the IOM’s anti-scientific vitamin D report sits on the Board of Directors for one of the companies working on the vitamin D drug—a high-potency formulation of intravenous vitamin D.

That’s the one–two punch preferred by the pharmaceutical industry and its media partners: first, pretend the vitamin either doesn’t work at all, or will kill you if you take too much of it, and scare off the public; then, reformulate the same vitamin into a drug that can make you millions of dollars. Let’s not forget that much of the major media is currently on financial life support and the support that keeps them alive is coming from Big Pharma.

The worst part of what may be a drug company campaign against supplemental vitamin D—and the media headlines warning about the dangers of “excess D”—is that at least one-third of all Americans are actually deficient in vitamin D. Besides causing heart problems in older women, vitamin D deficiency can cause chronic pain, weak bones, frequent infections and illnesses, diabetes, depression, and even cancer. In proper amounts, vitamin D is a potent immune system booster, maintains your calcium balance, helps regulate insulin and blood pressure, and may protect against osteoporosis, cancer, and Alzheimer’s.

And of course we have long advocated vitamin D as being the healthy alternative to the dangerous mercury-infused flu shot. It also short-circuits inflammation that can lead to flu-related complications such as bacterial pneumonia or lung infection. Want to be protected from colds and flu this season? Take proper amounts of vitamin D.

So what’s the proper amount? How do you get enough, but not too much?

Vitamin D supplementation depends on the region where you live, your exposure to sunlight, and your body’s particular ability to synthesize vitamin D3. The only sure-fire way to know if you’re getting enough vitamin D is to have a blood test. Your doctor can do it, or you can go to an independent lab, or you can purchase an easy-to-use in-home test kit and test the levels yourself.

The Vitamin D Council has an in-depth discussion of adequate doses of supplemental vitamin D3, but notes that children and adults with chronic health conditions such as autism, MS, cancer, heart disease, or obesity may need twice as much for proper health support. They emphasize that the doses they suggest are just to get you started. There is no substitute for a blood test to help you determine your body’s unique needs.


  1. The interesting thing from the studies is that ONLY natural D3 works with the macrophages, not the stuff doctors are prescribing. Some studies indicate 90 as optimum and I can go with 80. As a health consultant, don’t take anything Big Pharma comes up with because it won’t work well with the body’s needs or won’t work at all.

    1. There is a blood test for vitamin D. Unfortunaely only 5% of the physicians do this blood test. If each physician did the blood test they would be encouraging their patents to take vitamin D and D3 with 1500IU. By doing the blood test it would detect the complication of vitamin D and D3 deficiencty and prevent serious illnesses.

      1. I take 10,000IU/day D3. A recent blood test showed 67.5 ng/ml (reference range 32-100). So it would seem difficult to overdose. There was also a note on the test report that the reference range is being lowered to 30-100 soon. The reference range is an average of the population, so you don’t want to be near the bottom, where all the sick people are. Lowering the range to 30 means that the average population is getting less vitamin D – probably more people using sun blocker.

  2. This is total BS. Notice that the study was done by the American Heart Association. They work to please Big Pharma. Story over.

    1. It’s probably healthier to do the exact opposite of what mainstream media suggests!
      The Pharma companies don’t make any profit from healthy people…
      They can’t make their quarterly increased Wall St profit forecasts without more ‘sickies’?
      Motto: Do your part to be a good “Patriot” and get sick today! 🙂

  3. In all my years of doing Nutrition / Kinesiology, etc. – -( 25 yrs. now) – I’ve NEVER tested anyone that can take D Vit. – by itself. It needs to be properly comibined with other Fat Solubale Vits – and Nutrients. I did Many Studies with Dr. Bernard Jensen on Nutrition and Dr. Lendon Smith….both unfortunately have PASSED now……..but they were correct in PROPER Vit. D – and other Vits & Minerals consumption. I suggest SOMEONE READ their BOOKS!! I think they’d be ROLLING in their GRAVES – hearing such NONSENSE – how EVERYONE is Lacking in Vit. D !!!
    I’ve been keeping track of how FALSE these blood Tests are for “Low Vit. D Levels”——it’s Insane ! IF someone is lacking Vit. D ——I can assure you they are LACKING a whole lot More.

    1. Take some vitamin d to calm your brain down. Most people are below optimal levels. Most people don’t get enough sun. Yes they might need K2 but your kinesology isn’t as accurate as a blood test, end of story.

    2. M. Mayer,
      I’d like to read some of the research you mention. Where can it be found?
      Are you saying the current blood tests are unreliable and the optimal ranges are incorrect?

    3. To M. Mayer N.H.C.
      In your comment you mention two Dr.’s names relative to the subject of nutrition, and you suggested that those who are interesed should read their books. I, and I’m sure others as well, wish that you would have given the names of the books to which you refer. You have my e-mail address. If you would, I would happy to hear from you

    4. Mr Mayer, I would love to know more about what you mean. I will look for the books by the authors you recommend.
      The recommendations for vit D levels in blood as mentioned in article sre wrong then? (because as I guess you know that info is everywhere). So you are saying people are not lacking in D? I would really like to know what would be a better way to determine if you are getting enough D? What are the fat soluble vitamins you speak of, omega 3’s , vit E?
      I am weary of just about any of these studies, my doctor brought this one up yesterday and all I could think was “another flawed study”. They never take into account other vitamin co factors or even diet’s effect on how the blood levels effect your tissues.

    5. You should do some scientific research and calm down, not shout in capitals. The tests are fine, most people are indeed deficient, and of course they need all the nutrients, not just one, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need the one!

    6. Four years ago, I had my vitamin D levels tested — my results: 12ng/ml!! I was getting sick all the time, every virus that came along, I caught. I was getting sick every month or two. Every cold took me weeks to get over. Many colds would turn into sinus infections and bronchitis. Once I got my levels up to 65ng/ml, (by taking 20,000iu D# daily) I caught fewer colds and they were milder too. My level is now 70ng/ml and I don’t have to supplement as long as I get out in the sun during the summer. You sir, don’t know what you’re talking about.

    7. You are correct on at least one point. Vitamin D being oil soluble needs to be taken with your largest meal or fatty foods to be properly absorbed. It has been shown that people who take vitamin D or other oil soluble vitamins alone or with a meal lacking in any fat will not absorb a significant amount of the vitamin so they keep upping their dose rather than adjust when they take it.

  4. It’s always the same old question that needs to be asked. Who stands to profit and how by discrediting Vitamin D and other supplements? Vaccines should have been discredited years ago because they don’t work and never did but they’re a great way of introducing things the unbelieving recipient doesn’t realize they’re getting. Certainly Big Pharma profits by being able to sell some chemical whose side effects are worse than what it’s supposed to cure.
    I gave up smoking and drinking some time ago. I don’t eat fast food. I cook my own food preferring to pay a little bit more for naturally raised meat and vegetables. I use spices and herbs to maintain my immune system by cooking with them on a regular basis. I exercise regularly [no gym time] and I try to keep myself mentally active by learning new things. Those are some of the steps to good mental/physical health. I also don’t carry grudges and I try not to obsess about things. Life’s too short.

  5. Gee Whiz Gomer! I wonder how any of us vitamin pill poppers could have survived this long. I’ve been taking vitamins since 1965 and I can run circles around many my age. Never once did it occur to me that such vitamins could create such a media stir. Hum, perhaps Americans should stick with cigars and whiskey–after all, they didn’t seem to harm George Burns any.

  6. Decorum doens’t allow me to accurately tell you what I think of the MSNBC report but let’s just say whateever they say goes in one ear and out the other. This is just one report out of many that prove you have to do your own research, talk to people who have a message that resonates with you, subscribe to excellent newsletters such as this one from the Alliance for Natural Health, along with NaturalNews.com and Mercola.com. But most importantly, you can’t just sit around and collect information, you have to take action. In the case of vitamin D, I take 10,000 IU daily and when last measured a year ago my 25(OH)D blood level was 75 ng/mL. That’s exactly where I want to be and no stinkin’ reporter iis going to convince me it’s a bad idea.

  7. I’m right there with Craig. I’ve been taking vitamins since the 70s. I’ve never been in the hospital except for childbirth, and I take no drugs.
    Looks to me like its another move similar to the red rice yeast episode.

  8. I have been using supplements for years-glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, fish oil, 5000 IU of vitamin D3 three times a week and a good daily multivitamin for many years now, refuse flu shots, eat a reasonably balanced diet and guess what? I feel good, have plenty of energy and I’m hardly ever sick. And that at age 72.
    Side effects? Yup, only one. When I started taking fish oil I noticed a marked improvement in my night vision. Ever get anything beneficial like that from patent drugs? Nope, never. Doc put me on Lexapro one time, and I had to wean myself off of it because of side effects. Couldn’t sleep, legs kept jerking and shaking half the night, even affected my handwriting. Never again!
    I’d like to tell these pharma hacks and their media accomplices to take a long walk off a short pier, cool off and learn to tell the truth.

  9. Shame on the U.S.’s mainstream media for their gross inaccuracy. Because of it’s health benefits, my personal physician has suggested I take 2000 I.U.’s of vitamin D daily.

  10. The media and Big Pharma have been on offense for some time now actively attacking vitamins to scare people away from them. This is only going to make people even more sick than they already are – and thus more beholden to the drug companies.
    Of interest, the Vitamin D Council has excellent data from the early 20th century where vitamin D was researched extensively. Dosages were often several hundred THOUSAND IU per day, with little toxic effects. Of those that were observed, they quickly subsided once dosages were lowered with no lasting effects. So how extraordinarily ignorant that we’re told to worry over taking a couple thousand IU daily and the FDA recommends just 400IU per day. Like so much else in health and nutrition, it’s positively criminal.

  11. “The amount of vitamin D in the blood is measured in ng/ml—that is, nanograms of the vitamin per milliliter of blood serum. The press release and the study abstract both say, erroneously, that problems arise when vitamin D levels go over 100 ng/dl—that is, nanograms per deciliter. That’s the equivalent of 1 ng/ml. To say that 100 ng/dl is “excessive” is beyond absurd; anything under 30 ng/ml is considered deficient, and 1 ng/ml is next to impossible to achieve!”
    Actually, both the study and you have that one wrong.
    1 dl = 10 ml (not 100 ml)
    the quantities are: 1 ml (milliliter) = 1 cubic centimeter
    1 dl (deciliter) = 10 cubic centimeters
    1 cl (centiliter) = 100 cubic centimeters
    1 l (liter) = 1000 cubic centimeters.
    In that way, 100 ng/dl (nanograms per deciliter) would be the equivalent of 10 ng/ml.
    In any case, clearly the study (and the reporting about it) are WAY off base, if they suggest that a level below deficiency is “too much”. Someone was just looking to save what can be saved of the pharmaceutical business of vaccination. How could we tolerate people preventing illness with vitamin D while turning a cold shoulder to vaccines? Impossible!

    1. 1 dL does indeed equal 100 ml. It is also equivalent to 100 cubic centimeters.
      I believe you have flipped the deci- and centi- prefixes. The incrementation is:
      1 mL = 1 cubic centimeter
      1 cL = 10 cubic centimeters
      1 DL = 100 cubic centimeters
      1 L = 1,000 cubic centimeters
      Check out this handy chart here which shows the progression of metric prefixes: http://www.metricconversion.us/prefixes.htm

  12. All this hubbub over vitamin D just goes to highlight the fact that the FDA, especially when backed by the mainstream media, is the biggest threat to the health of humankind. Combine FDA and the media with Monsanto’s engineering much of the nutrition out of food and you have the ingredients for disaster of gigantic proportions. Take store-bought bread for instance. Used to be day-old bread was edible but no too tasty. nowadays with much of the nutrition engineered out of the wheat, it can last for a couple weeks at least. how scary is that?

  13. I have been taking several natural supplements including omega oils and 8000 IU of Vit D3 and 600 mg of elemental calcium citrate daily for many years.
    My last blood test in Nov 2011 showed my D3 level as 74ng/ml. I’m 70 and very active and healthy.
    I NEVER get the flu shot. I have not been sick with a cold or flu for over 10 years.
    I really think Vit D3 and some calcium are the most important supplemenst anyone can take.
    It is very inexpensive. Take it, and get your loved ones to also take it.

  14. My dentist told me he couldn’t do surgery on my gums unless I quit the drug for Osteoporsis for 3 months and then not take it for 3 months after the surgery. That said this drug isn’t going into my body anymore. We need the natural herbs and vitamins that can help so much.

  15. RE:atrial fibrillation (AF). There were 291 people in the highest vitamin d group so the difference between 1.4% (4 people) and 3.8% (11 people) is about 7 people. Oddly looks less significant.

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