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Vitamin D sits on a shelf in a Dartmouth, N.S. drug store in June, 2007. (ANDREW VAUGHAN/CP)
Vitamin D sits on a shelf in a Dartmouth, N.S. drug store in June, 2007. (ANDREW VAUGHAN/CP)

Globe Editorial

Health Canada needs to get off the pot on Vitamin D Add to ...

The inertia at Health Canada is well established. The federal department's misnamed Sodium Working Group took close to three years to produce some modest preliminary recommendations on salt reduction. The working group is reportedly still working on a national sodium strategy, which will include reduction targets.

Similarly, it has been three years since Health Canada issued a statement that it "is aware of the growing body of evidence on the role of vitamin D in relation to health." At that time, in June, 2007, the department cautioned that before it could issue a revised recommendation concerning vitamin D, "a comprehensive review that looks at both benefits and safety needs to be undertaken." Surely the evidence of the benefits of increased vitamin D intake are now widely accepted.

Since Health Canada made its recommendation for the adequate daily vitamin D intake at 200 to 600 international units, depending on age, there has been a seismic shift in the understanding of the health benefits of that nutrient. A raft of research reports have linked low levels of vitamin D to a variety of serious ailments, including cancer, multiple sclerosis and diabetes. In March, a study found vitamin D had potent flu-fighting potential, and also lowered the incidence of asthma attacks in children. That same month, findings presented at the American College of Cardiology's annual scientific meeting suggested vitamin D dramatically reduces the risk of heart attack.

This week, the scientific advisory committee for Osteoporosis Canada called for dramatic increases in vitamin D consumption. The burden of evidence is overwhelming: Health Canada needs to increase its recommendation for daily vitamin D intake.

The creaking and grinding of the apparatus of state suggest the department is moving stolidly in that direction. Health Canada and the U.S. Department of Health have an expert panel reviewing current intake guidelines, which are currently based on the state of knowledge about vitamin D in 1997.

It is the indolent pace of the review that is troubling. No one would suggest the department become incautious. There comes a point, however, where the withholding of recommendations actually contributes to poor health outcomes. To use a colloquialism, Health Canada needs to get off the pot.

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