Vitamin D and Omega-3

BWH researchers are testing whether vitamin D and omega-3 help prevent cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other conditions.

Can the foods in your kitchen and supplements in your medicine cabinet really prevent major diseases? Well, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) are evaluating two common nutrients suspected of doing just that.

A new study, the VITamin D and OmegA-3 TriaL (VITAL), is testing the role of vitamin D (2,000 IU daily) and EPA+DHA (1 gram daily) in the prevention of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and a wide range of other conditions among 20,000 men and women (above age 50 and 55 respectively) nationwide.

“There has been a lot of confusion and conflicting information about the ideal intake levels and health benefits of Vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, and rigorous testing of their role in disease prevention has been limited,” explains Dr. JoAnn Manson, Principal Investigator of VITAL, Chief of the Division of Preventive Medicine at BWH, and the Michael and Lee Bell Professor of Women’s Health at Harvard Medical School. “The VITAL study will provide long-awaited concrete data regarding effects of these nutrients in the prevention of cancer, heart disease, stroke, and other illnesses.”

The VITAL study is evaluating both Vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids in the form of dietary supplements. Vitamin D also can be found in low levels in salmon, cod liver oil, sardines, tuna fish, egg yolk, and fortified foods and beverages, such as milk, cereals, orange juice, and yogurt. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include dark fatty fish – such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines, walnuts, flax seeds, and cabbage.

“The recommended daily intake for Vitamin D is 600-800 IU/d, but it remains unclear if intakes above this level will confer additional health benefits,” notes Dr. Manson. Key risk factors for Vitamin D deficiency include obesity, dark skin pigmentation, spending very little time in the sun, poor nutrition, osteoporosis, and taking certain medications such as anti-seizure drugs that accelerate Vitamin D clearance.

In addition to studying the benefits of these supplements in preventing cancer and cardiovascular disease, the VITAL study also will assess whether they provide other health benefits, such as lowering the risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, memory loss or cognitive decline, depression, autoimmune conditions (such as thyroid disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus), and other health conditions (including infections, asthma, fractures, chronic knee pain symptoms, and physical disability and falls). The study will also assess whether vitamin D can reduce health disparities seen between different racial/ethnic groups in the U.S.

Note: VITAL is still recruiting participants. If you’re interested in participating or receiving more information about the study, please call 1-800-388-3963 or check the study website at Boston-area participants may be eligible to participate in local clinic visits, for which they’d receive up to $400 ($200 for each of the 2 visits).

– Jessica F

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