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Why Some Doctors Recommend Screening Blood For Vitamin D Levels
A study published last month shows people with low levels of Vitamin D are at greater risk for COVID-19 infection. Despite that, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force says there is insufficient evidence to recommend screening asymptomatic patients. GPB’s Ellen Eldridge reports.
A link between low levels of vitamin D and risk for COVID-19 exists, according to a study published in March that suggests randomized clinical trials are needed to determine whether increasing vitamin D levels affect COVID-19 risk, especially in Black individuals.
To update its 2014 recommendation, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force commissioned a systematic review on screening for vitamin D deficiency, including the benefits and harms of screening and early treatment, but found insufficient evidence to recommend screening for asymptomatic patients.
More research is needed, it said.
The Task Force did not provide a recommendation against screening but rather concluded that the current evidence was insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms of screening for vitamin D deficiency in asymptomatic adults.
The task force published its findings this week, and leaves the decision to screen vitamin D levels to patients' doctors. Insurance companies often require a statement from primary care providers as to why a blood test was deemed medically necessary.
Newnan-based family doctor, Cecil Bennett, said he is a proponent of screening for vitamin D levels.
"I've probably done, I'm serious, at least 10,000 vitamin D screenings since 2015," he said.
The vast majority of his patients — 90% — had levels below the normal range of 30 to 100.
"How could something be a normal range if 90% of the population is outside of that normal range?" he wondered. "It just did not make a whole lot of sense to me."
Kate Norris of Woodstock said her doctor regularly checks her blood, and recently encouraged Norris to double her vitamin D dose because she was deficient.
She now takes 10,000 IU, or 500 micrograms, each day. That's two pills.
"This past time (my doctor and I) did have a conversation about it because of COVID-19," Norris said. "And she mentioned, you know, make sure you take those (vitamin D pills) because they're noticing that a lot of the patients that are having trouble with COVID-19 in the hospital, people in the ICU, have low vitamin D levels."
Studies have shown adequate levels of Vitamin D can improve immune function, Bennett said, while low vitamin D levels lead to increased risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney disease and colon cancer.
"A very significant value of vitamin D is that it can actually decrease the inflammatory process in patients who have irritable bowel syndrome such as Crohn's or ulcerative colitis," Bennett said. "And anything that decreases inflammation in the gut can actually decrease the risk of colon cancer."
Additionally, Bennett said he errs on the side of being more aggressive when it comes to boosting levels of vitamin D with supplements.
"Especially if it's even just a 1% decrease risk in colon cancer — it's worth it to me for them to take it every day," he said.