Vitamin D in Human Health and Performance: The Pursuit of Evidence-Based Practice in an Era of Scientific Uncertainty
Rockwell, Michelle S.
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Background: Calciferol (vitamin D) is an essential nutrient that can be synthesized in the skin upon exposure to ultraviolet-B (UVB) light, or obtained through dietary and supplement sources. Traditionally known for its role in bone metabolism, vitamin D is currently described as a pleiotropic hormone with genomic and non-genomic roles in most body tissues. Clinical practice guidelines related to vitamin D are inconsistent and controversial. The purpose of this dissertation was to describe current patterns of vitamin D-related clinical care in a variety of settings, and to evaluate the impact of vitamin D supplements on the health and performance of collegiate athletes, a group with high prevalence of low vitamin D (LVD). Methods: This dissertation consists of five studies: 1) a scoping review of the health services literature related to clinical management of vitamin D; 2) a retrospective analysis of clinical care following non-indicated vitamin D testing using electronic health record (EHR) data from a regional health system; 3) a survey study to assess vitamin D-related practices among National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I programs; 4) an open clinical trial to evaluate the efficacy of a specific vitamin D supplement protocol in treating collegiate basketball athletes with LVD; and 5) a randomized, double-blind clinical trial to determine health and performance effects of vitamin D supplements in collegiate swimmers participating in fall season training. Results: Substantial inconsistency in vitamin D-related care was observed throughout the first three studies. Exponential increases in vitamin D testing and treatment, and associated costs, were identified in the U.S. and several other countries. A high proportion of this care was considered non-indicated (i.e., counter to professional guidelines). A lower rate of non-indicated vitamin D-related services was conducted within the health system we studied, but a cascade of low value services followed non-indicated vitamin D testing. Vitamin D testing was regularly performed by more than 65% of NCAA programs. In basketball athletes, 10 weeks of daily vitamin D3 supplements (5000 or 10,000 IU based on initial vitamin D status) improved serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D], the common biomarker of vitamin D status. In swimmers, a vitamin D supplement protocol (5,000 IU vitamin D3 daily for 12 weeks) was efficacious in attenuating a seasonal decline in 25(OH)D compared with placebo. Swimmers taking vitamin D supplements also showed greater improvements in strength, power, and fat free mass. In both athlete studies, taking vitamin D supplements was associated with higher free testosterone concentration. Conclusions: The provision of evidence-based care related to vitamin D is complicated by contradictory clinical practice guidelines, resulting in inconsistent and sometimes, non-indicated care. Focused research on specific populations at high-risk for LVD can inform best practices. Our results suggest that taking vitamin D supplements is an efficacious strategy for athletes to improve 25(OH)D, especially when UVB exposure is low, and to enhance strength and power in collegiate swimmers.
General Audience Abstract
Vitamin D is known as the “sunshine vitamin” since it can be synthesized by the human body when exposed to specific wavelengths of ultraviolet-B (UVB) light. Some foods and dietary supplements also contain vitamin D. A relationship between vitamin D and bone health is well-established, but emerging research has also associated vitamin D status with a number of different diseases and health problems, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune conditions, and depression. Unfortunately, this research is currently inconclusive, and healthcare providers’ professional guidelines related to vitamin D are highly variable. Thus, providing evidence-based care related to vitamin D is complicated. This dissertation consists of a series of three research studies that describe healthcare providers’ vitamin D-related care considering the uncertain landscape, and two research studies that explore the role of vitamin D in collegiate athletes. We chose athletes since a high proportion of them have deficient or insufficient vitamin D status, and because some research has shown that this low vitamin D status affects athletic performance. Results of these studies showed that vitamin D-related health services such as blood testing have increased dramatically over the past 15 years, as have costs associated with these services. Opportunities to improve consistency and quality of care were observed in multiple settings. In the athlete studies, a high rate of vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency was observed among basketball athletes, and we identified vitamin D supplement treatment protocol effective in improving vitamin D status. In addition, swimmers who took vitamin D supplements performed better on strength and conditioning tests than those who took placebo supplements. A favorable relationship between testosterone concentrations and vitamin D status was shown in both basketball athletes and swimmers. Continuing to conduct research focused on specific populations can help healthcare providers develop consistent, high quality, evidence-based care related to vitamin D.
- Doctoral Dissertations