QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute scientists have launched one of the world’s biggest studies of vitamin D’s role in our health.
D-Health, led by Associate Professor Rachel Neale, will follow 25,000 Australians for five years, to establish the role vitamin D plays in preventing a range of diseases.
“Vitamin D is often considered the latest magic cure for almost every disease, from cancer and heart disease, to mental health disorders and multiple sclerosis,” Associate Professor Neale said.
“But in reality, the jury is still out in terms of proven benefits,” Associate Professor Neale said.
“We hope that this study, linking with Medicare records and cancer registries, will be able to provide some definitive answers and advice.”
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The NHMRC-funded study requires people aged 60-79 to take a supplement or a placebo – they won’t know which – once a month for five years. A mail-out calling for participants or volunteers across the country begins this week.
“We are calling on Australians to become involved, to make a difference. It requires very little of their time but will make an enormous difference to our understanding of the role of vitamin D in preventing disease,” Associate Professor Neale said.
Vitamin D is found in oily fish and made in the skin when it is exposed to sunlight. It has long been known for its importance to bone health. However nutrition scientists now recognise that vitamin D is involved in a wide variety of other functions, including modulation of the immune system.
“Vitamin D testing has become a huge trend. This country spends $150 million a year on vitamin D testing, despite the fact that testing is unreliable and we don’t even really know what blood level to aim for, ” Associate Professor Neale said.
“And there’s another complicating factor in Australia, where our skin cancer rates are so high and people receive conflicting advice about how much sun exposure they need to maintain Vitamin D levels. It may be that a Vitamin D supplement is enough, but we need a study like D-Health to find out.”
Dr Neale recently led a 12-month study, which found that a monthly Vitamin D supplement led to reduced antibiotic prescriptions in older adults. The research is published in this month’s edition of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
To volunteer for D-Health phone the helpline on 1300 735 920 or visit the study website at dhealth.qimrberghofer.edu.au
D-Health is funded by a research grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).