Vitamin D and Fish Oil – Time to Put Up or Shut Up

Do I need to catch more sun and vitamin D?
Do I need to catch more sun and vitamin D?

The western world faces three very notorious killers: heart disease, cancer, and stroke. Just this week Michael Jackson (heart attack??) and Farah Fawcett (cancer) were struck down, and the media is waiting on baited breath for another celebrity to die and fulfill the “rule of threes.” Stroke, we’re looking at you. But what if it didn’t have to be this way? What if there were just a few simple things you could eat or take that would protect you from all three killers?

That’s what the U.S. government is going to find out. The National Institute for Health (NIH) is funding a $20 million dollar study with 20,000 test subjects to explore how vitamin D and fish oil affect health. The Vitamin D and Omega-3 Trial (or VITAL) will be a five year study and will be one of the first to specifically target African Americans as test subjects. With darker skin producing less vitamin D in the body from sun exposure, scientists theorize there may be a link between a vitamin D deficiency and higher rates of stroke, heart disease, and cancer in the Af.Am. community.

Vitamin D and Fish Oil. Not quite the names for a buddy cop movie, but for the last decade, they’ve each been toted as the way to combat the killer diseases of our time. Vitamin D has been inconclusively linked to heart health and cancer prevention, not to mention bone strength. Fish Oil, with high levels of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids is supposed to good for everything from good skin to memory loss. When it comes to preventing stroke, heart attack, or cancer, these two guys seem like the ideal dietary supplements to take.

And in five years, we’ll hopefully know for certain. In the meantime, Dr. JoAnn Manson and Dr. Julie Buring, the heads of VITAL are gearing up for the trials. Starting in January of next year, they will recruit men over the age of 65 and women over 60 to take daily supplements and report on their health. These supplements will be either placebos, vitamin D, or fish oil. While the studies will be centered at Harvard Medical School and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, the subjects will cover the entire U.S. With a relatively huge sampling (20,000 subjects) and double blind methodology, VITAL hopes to once and for all settle the long term benefits, or risks, of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids.

If the tests can conclusively prove the health benefits for these supplements they’ll be a fixture in the diets of all those seeking longevity or immortality, such as Singularity Hub regular Ray Kurzweil. Even if vitamin D and fish-oil aren’t shown to be miracle drugs the VITAL study could still reveal important facts about our health. Terrifying or wonderful surprises come standard with studies this large. For instance, who could have predicted that chemotherapy would help with wrinkles? In five years, we may all be rushing outside to soak up more sun or eating more sushi to prevent cancer. Personally, I’ll be waiting for the day you can get vitamin D from the glow of your computer screen.

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