May 25, 2010 CBC News http://www.cbc.ca/canada/ottawa/story/2010/05/25/ont-vitamin-d-testing.html
A number of studies have suggested people who take vitamin D supplements have a lower overall risk of premature death, but large-scale placebo-controlled studies have yet to confirm the benefits.A number of studies have suggested people who take vitamin D supplements have a lower overall risk of premature death, but large-scale placebo-controlled studies have yet to confirm the benefits. (Mark Gollom/CBC)
The Ontario government is considering cuts to provincial funding for routine vitamin D blood tests, which have exploded in popularity in the wake of studies suggesting many Canadians are not getting enough to maintain their health.
Earlier this year the Ontario Health Technology Advisory Committee recommended the province cut back on funding the tests for otherwise healthy people, a proposal the province's Ministry of Health is still studying.
While the vitamin D blood tests cost the province only about $52 at private laboratories or $32 at hospitals, increasing public awareness about the dangers of vitamin D deficiency has led to a dramatic increase in testing: over 700,000 people in Ontario took the test in 2009, almost 20 times the number who had them done in 2004.
Advocates of vitamin D believe it is important to human health, especially in northerly climates such as Canada's, where sunshine is often limited in winter.
A Statistics Canada study published in March suggested more than 1.1 million Canadians — or about four per cent of the population — are deficient enough in vitamin D to cause nutritional rickets in children and osteoporosis in adults.
Statistics Canada's health analyst Kellie Langlois also said higher levels of vitamin D are associated with lower risk of breast and colon cancer, some cardiovascular diseases and diseases like multiple sclerosis.
Dr. Linda Rapson, who chairs the Ontario Medical Association's complementary medicine section, said cutting funding to the tests would be a mistake.
Rapson spoke to the advisory committee that made the recommendation but said her advice to maintain funding for the tests fell on deaf ears. She said the cost-benefit case for keeping the tests hasn't been properly assessed.
"The potential is there to reduce the incidence of some pretty serious medical conditions in our society that really cost the country a fortune," said Rapson.
Much of the research into vitamin D benefits comes from observational studies rather than placebo-controlled trials — the highest standard in health research. Placebo-based trials remain expensive, however, and since vitamins cannot be patented, pharmaceutical companies have little financial incentive to conduct the research.
Without more proof, health authorities in Canada have taken a cautious approach to the supplements. The Canadian Cancer Society currently suggests 1,000 IU daily, while Health Canada advises 400 IU, but only for people over age 50. But some in the medical community have recommended as much as 4,000 IU daily.
Health Canada and the U.S. Institute of Medicine are jointly studying the latest science to review recommended intakes for vitamin D and calcium.
Ottawa resident Ahmed Mohamoud took the test as part of annual blood work last week and was told by his doctor that he was deficient and needed to double his dosage of vitamin D supplements.
"Previously I was taking 1,000 IU, but now she told me to take 2,000, so I'm going to start tomorrow," said the 68-year-old Mohamoud.
Newfoundland and Labrador pulled the plug on vitamin D testing last summer after Eastern Health's laboratories were flooded with more requests than it could handle.
Eastern Health authorities said it was costing too much to tell people the same advice: that nearly everyone in the province who wasn't taking a vitamin D supplement should be taking one.
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