This blog post is most likely going to be one of the most important blog posts on health you will read in your lifetime. Period.
I realise it is long, reading time will be approximately 7 minutes, but it will be well worth it.
This is a comment on a scientific paper which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The author, James Chestnut, critiques the study.
THE TRUTH ABOUT THE VITAL STUDY ON OMEGA-3 and VITAMIN D
There have been two recent publications regarding the findings from the VITAL study that have
gotten a lot of media attention because of their conclusions that there was no benefit to
supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids or vitamin D.
Here are the conclusions of the two
papers recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine:
“Supplementation with vitamin D did not result in a lower incidence of invasive cancer or
cardiovascular events than placebo.” (Manson. J.E. et al. Vitamin D Supplements and
Prevention of Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease. NEJM November 10, 2018 DOI:
“Supplementation with n−3 fatty acids did not result in a lower incidence of major
cardiovascular events or cancer than placebo.” (Manson, J.E. et al. Marine n−3 Fatty Acids and
Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer. November 10, 2018 DOI:
Do these conclusions accurately portray the data from the studies? Do these conclusions
accurately represent a valid determination of the value of supplementation with omega-3 fish
oil and/or vitamin D?
Well, let’s have a closer look and I will let you decide.
Let’s start with some quotes from the studies themselves and then some quotes from the VITAL
From the Vitamin D paper,
“In both an analysis that excluded 1 year of follow-up and an analysis that excluded 2 years of
follow-up, neither of which was specified in the protocol, the rate of death from cancer was
significantly lower with vitamin D than with placebo.”
Interesting, there was a significantly reduced chance of death from cancer in those taking
vitamin D. This seems something worth reporting and it certainly seems like a significant
benefit to me.
From the Omega-3 Fatty Acid paper,
“In an analysis that excluded the first 2 years of follow-up, the hazard ratio for major
cardiovascular events in the n−3 group, as compared with the placebo group, was 0.89 (95% CI,
0.76 to 1.05), and the lower incidence of myocardial infarction in the n−3 group persisted.”
In other words, if you took out the first two years when the low amount of omega-3
supplementation had probably not had time to raise blood levels enough, and just analyze the
last 3 years of the study, you see that the omega-3 group had a lower risk of major
“Subgroup analyses showed a possible lower incidence of the primary cardiovascular end point
with n−3 supplementation than with placebo among participants with low fish consumption.”
In other words, people who were getting less omega-3 in their diet benefited more from
supplementation – of course!
In other words, the more deficient you are the more you are at
risk and the less deficient you are the less you are at risk.
From the VITAL study website www.vitalstudy.org under the heading Study Findings in the lefthand margin:
“Supplemental vitamin D also did not reduce the occurrence of breast, prostate, or colorectal
cancers. However, there was a suggestive 17% reduction in cancer deaths, which became a
25% reduction in analyses that excluded the first two years of follow-up. Excluding early
follow-up is a common practice in analyzing data from trials of dietary supplements and cancer
because of effects of nutritional factors on risk of cancer, a slow-developing disease, typically
become clear only after several years.”
So, in reality, with only 2000 IUs of vitamin D per day, an amount not enough to reach
sufficiency, there was:
A 25% reduction in cancer deaths!
Omega-3 Fatty Acids:
“Upon closer examination, this result was due almost entirely to a reduction in heart attacks
without a reduction in strokes. Specifically, the omega-3 fatty acid intervention lowered the risk
of heart attack by 28% and the risk of fatal heart attack by 50% but had no benefit on stroke or
cardiovascular deaths not related to heart disease. Additionally, omega-3 fatty acids reduced
the rate of angioplasty procedures by 22%.”
So, in reality, with less than 1 g of essential fatty acids in ethyl ester not triglyceride form and
no DPA there was:
A 28% reduced risk of heart attack, a 50% reduced risk of fatal heart
attack and a 22% reduced rate of angioplasty procedures!!!
“Presently, according to the American Heart Association, 1.3 million coronary angioplasty are
performed annually [at an average cost of more than 30,000.00 per procedure for a total cost
of $39 Billion per year].”
Fish oil supplementation can reduce the costs of angioplasties alone by $8.6 Billion. And fish oil
actually works, unlike angioplasties….
“Despite these costs, many studies, including one last month in the New England Journal of
Medicine, reveal that angioplasties and stents do not prolong life or even prevent heart attacks
in stable patients (i.e. 95% of those who receive them).” (Hyman et al. Lifestyle Medicine:
Treating the Causes of Disease. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine Nov/Dec 2010).
In other words, there are 1.235 million USELESS angioplasties performed each year at an annual
cost of $37 Billion.
I think it is fair to say that there is indeed, even from the VITAL study, ample evidence to
support supplementation with Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin D. Let’s not stop here, let’s
critique the study design and look at some important facts with regard to essential nutrients
in general, and omega-3 and vitamin D supplementation specifically.
“The VITamin D and OmegA-3 TriaL (VITAL) is an ongoing randomized clinical trial in 25,871 U.S.
men and women investigating whether taking daily dietary supplements of vitamin D3 (2000
IU) or omega-3 fatty acids (Omacor® fish oil, 1 gram) reduces the risk of developing cancer,
heart disease, and stroke [over a 5-year period] in people [average age 72.3 years at end of 5-
year study] who do not have a prior history of these illnesses.”
*Average age of subjects was 67.1 years at beginning of study and 72.3 years at follow-up.
*Omacor is an ethyl ester concentrate and which delivered a daily amount of 460 mg EPA and
380 mg DHA (EPA and DHA only – NO DPA (see studies on importance of DPA).
*Subjects only received 2000 IU of Vit D per day!! (see studies showing requiring 5000 IUs and
that as blood levels increase the effects MUCH greater – dose responsive up to point of
*Innate Choice® OmegA+D Sufficiency delivers 2360 mg of Omega-3 (1060 mg EPA; 920 mg of
DHA; Additional Omega-3 (including DHA) – 380 mg and 4120 IUs of Vit D per daily serving.
So, to put this study in perspective. It is a primary prevention study that is choosing to measure
the value of omega-3 and vitamin D supplementation based on a select few outcome measures
of invasive cancer and major cardiovascular events.
Keep in mind, the average age of subjects at baseline was 67.1 years of age and 72.3 years at
approximately 5-year follow-up. Does this not seem like a very short duration of time and a
strange cohort or group of people to use to look at primary prevention of cancer and heart
disease, two chronic illnesses that take years if not decades to develop?
Perhaps most important to keep in mind is the FACT that sufficient intake of essential nutrients
such as omega-3 and vitamin D has already, beyond any reasonable doubt, been PROVEN to be
required for the expression of health and that deficient intake has been PROVEN to result in the
expression of reduced health. By scientific and biochemical definition, essential nutrients are
nutrients that are required in sufficient amounts for proper cell function and health and are
nutrients which humans cannot make so must ingest in sufficient amounts.
Does this mean that simply being sufficient in these nutrients can erase all other risk factors for
cancer and heart disease or any other chronic illness? Of course not! WRONG QUESTIONS!
These diseases, like all chronic diseases, are multi-factorial! Most importantly, whether or not
supplementing with fish oil and vitamin D can prevent any individual disease is NOT a valid
measure of whether or not supplementation is beneficial for health. Exercise is beneficial
whether it prevents blindness or not. Eating more vegetables is beneficial whether it prevents
liver disease or not.
There are a multitude of benefits other than cancer and heart disease
prevention. However, when you look at the actual data from this study you see that there are
even significant benefits with respect to these two diseases!
The main point to remember is that the mere classification as essential nutrients means that
omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D are required in sufficient amounts by every human and that
deficient intake is detrimental to every human.
The only question remaining is what constitutes sufficient intake. Sadly, the VITAL study does
not seem to recognize the latest scientific research regarding human requirements for
sufficiency. The amounts of these nutrients delivered in this study do NOT represent sufficient
SUFFICIENCT INTAKE/ BLOOD LEVELS
Sufficient Intake of Vitamin D:
The Vitamin D Council (www.vitamindcouncil.org) recommends 5000 IUs per day for adults to
maintain a MINIMUM blood level of 50 ng/ml. In reality this averages out to 1000 IUs per 40 lbs
of body weight which is exactly what we recommend.
“At levels below 40-50 ng/mL the body diverts most or all of the ingested or sun-derived
vitamin D to immediate metabolic needs, signifying chronic substrate starvation (deficiency).”
“The above studies indicate that few modern humans living in temperate latitudes – of any age
– now achieve levels of 50 ng/mL.” (Cannell et al. (2009) Athletic Performance and Vitamin D.
Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 41 (5) 1102-1110).
*In the VITAL study the vitamin D supplementation group only received 2000 IUs per day and
only reached an average blood level of 41.8 ng/ml – the supplementation group was in
substrate starvation – they were still deficient!
“In a subgroup of 1644 participants with repeat measurements after 1 year, mean 25-
hydroxyvitamin D levels increased from 29.8 ng per milliliter (74 nmol per liter) at baseline to
41.8 ng per milliliter (104 nmol per liter) at 1 year (a 40% increase) in the vitamin D group.”
(Manson. J.E. et al. Vitamin D Supplements and Prevention of Cancer and Cardiovascular
Disease. NEJM November 10, 2018 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa180994).
Further, research shows that the higher the vitamin D levels the greater the benefit!
“High serum vitamin D was associated with lower mortality from breast cancer.” “Patients with
the highest concentration of Vitamin D had approximately half the fatality rate compared to
those with the lowest concentration.” (Mohr SB et al. Meta-analysis of Vitamin D sufficiency for
improving survival of patients with breast cancer. Anticancer Research. 2014;34:1163-1166).
“Women with sufficient vitamin D levels had an 80% reduction in breast cancer incidence
compared to those who had deficient vitamin D levels.” (Lowe, LC et al. Plasma 25-hydroxy
vitamin D concentrations, vitamin D receptor genotype and breast cancer risk in a UK Caucasian
population. Eur J Cancer. 2005;41:1164-9).
A four year study on vitamin D supplementation showed a 77% reduction in all invasive breast
cancers in women who received vitamin D supplementation versus those who did not
supplement. (JM et al. Vitamin D and calcium supplementation reduces cancer risk: results of a
randomized trial. Am J of Clin Nutr 2007;85:1586-1591).
Also, it is very important that sufficient vitamin A intake accompanies vitamin D intake as the
two vitamins (actually hormones) work synergistically and actually up-regulate each other’s
cell receptors. The VITAL study makes no mention of this.
“Vitamin A and vitamin D balance, enhance, and contain each other through the retinoid X
receptor (RXR).” “Because they share a receptor, if we supplement either vitamin D or vitamin A
in an unbalanced fashion, we create a functional deficiency of the one not supplemented.”
“Low blood levels of vitamin D, vitamin A, and carotenoids are all correlated with greater risk of
heart disease.” (Levine, SA. The importance of a balanced approach to vitamin D
supplementation. Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine. 2011;26(1):15-20).
“Vitamins A and D each increase the genetic expression of cell receptors for the other. Together,
vitamins A and D cause a three-fold increase in production of receptors compared to either
vitamin alone.” “This would imply that the policy of giving vitamin D supplement alone in
pregnancy instead of cod liver oil would need adjustment. Cod liver oil, as natural supplement
of vitamin A and vitamin D, is well known for its beneficial effects on the growth of infants and
children.” (Ng et al. Vitamin D and vitamin A receptor expression and the proliferative effects of
ligand activation of these receptors on the development of pancreatic progenitor cells derived
from human fetal pancreas. 2011 Stem Cell Rev 7 (1): 53–63).
*Innate Choice® OmegA+D Sufficiency contains fish oil AND cod liver oil with extra vitamin D
added to provide both sufficient and synergistic amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D,
and vitamin A. I formulated this product specifically for this reason based on the research. It
is the only such product in the world.
Sufficient Intake of Omega-3 Fatty Acids:
First, according to the peer-reviewed literature, it is not just the amount of omega-3 fatty acids
that is significant but also the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid ingestion which this study
completely ignores. This is why most humans require 2 grams of natural triglyceride fully fatty
acid complement fish oil (EPA, DPA, DHA) per day in order to balance out the intake of Omega-3
and Omega-6 fatty acids.
“Western diets are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, and have excessive amounts of omega-6
fatty acids compared with the diet on which human beings evolved and their genetic patterns
were established.” (Simopoulos, AP. The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential
fatty acids. Biomed Pharmacother. 2002;56:365–379).
The VITAL study also ignores the importance of the fatty acid DPA which has been removed from
the EPA and DHA ethyl ester concentrate delivered in this study but called fish oil. Omacor is
NOT fish oil. No such oil is found in any fish or any other animal on the planet. Ethyl esters are
the product of chemical labs not nature. Nature supplies omega-3 fatty acids in natural
triglyceride, fully fatty acid complement form NOT artificial ethyl esters. Real fish oil contains
DPA because fish contain DPA; Innate Choice® OmegA+D Sufficiency contains DPA!
“For cause-specific deaths, all 3 PUFAs were associated with lower CVD mortality and their
combined levels were associated with 35% lower risk across quintiles.” “Among CVD subtypes,
DHA seemed most strongly related to CHD death (40% lower risk), especially arrhythmic CHD
death (45% lower risk), whereas DPA was most strongly related to stroke death (47% lower
risk).” (Muzaffarabad et al. Plasma phospholipid long chain n-3 fatty acids and total and causespecific mortality in older adults. Ann Intern Med. 2013;158:515-525).
Interesting to note that this study showed a markedly low effect on stroke; something
commented on by the authors. Yet, the omega-3 supplement they provided contained NO DPA;
something they seem completely unaware of.
This is the problem when essential nutrients are
studied like drugs instead of food, the expertise of these authors was not in the field of genomespecific nutrition, it was in the field of disease treatment.
I hope this article has provided you some deeper insight and some more detailed information
so that you can make a scientific research informed choice rather than a headline informed
choice regarding the benefits of supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D.
The cost is minimum and the proven benefits are many. These essential nutrients are panaceas
for disease treatment or prevention; anyone who claims they are is being dishonest. They are
however panaceas for solving deficient intake and deficient intake is unhealthy – period.
Further, sufficient intake does improve your health because it is required for the expression of
health – period!