The Vitamin D Council wrapped up a pilot program last week here in San Luis Obispo, California, where we tabled at the weekly Farmers’ Market, handing out brochures and vitamin D supplements in attempt to both educate about vitamin D and treat deficiency. The Farmers’ Market takes place Thursday nights and depending on the week, attracts anywhere from 5,000 to 15,000 attendees a night. We felt it was a good venue to educate the masses in an efficient manner and target a broad spectrum of people.
A big thank you goes out to Bio-Tech Pharmacal for donating 1400 bottles of 5000 IU D3 to the Vitamin D Council. We tabled over 8 weeks. On those nights, we would hand out about 200 bottles of vitamin D and 200 brochures with information on vitamin D, deficiency and supplementation.
This pilot program gave us several insights and brought up a lot of questions about what role the Vitamin D Council should play in educating the public. Educating over the Internet is a convenient venue. You are able to provide and disseminate large amounts of information (for instance, there are hundreds of pages on our website with information), while the user has infinite outside sources just a few clicks away (PubMed, Google, etc…) if they want to check claims or question logic. In person, you don’t have the same benefit. The best you can do is provide an information sheet (i.e. brochure) and do your best answering questions and covering key concepts.
Was handing out 5000 IU bottles of vitamin D a good thing to do? Initially, we viewed it as a direct approach to carrying out our mission, by providing the goods to treat people’s (likely) deficiency. We applied for a small grant to fund this program, and the foundation we applied to rejected our grant on the basis that the field was competitive (understandable) and that they were not too keen on the idea of handing out supplements, particularly at that dose.
Some Farmers’ Market attendees were up on vitamin D, had doctors who monitored their levels on a regular basis, had doctors who were having them take 5,000 IU/day, who made sure they were getting plenty of sensible sun exposure. These were encouraging moments, as it reaffirmed that some doctors and individuals were up on the current research and could think and reason independent of the IOM recommendations.
Some Farmers’ Market attendees had been tested for vitamin D and knew they were deficient. Some had done nothing about it; others were taking a dose that would not sufficiently raise their blood levels. This is an area of concern. There is still great disconnect between what kind of blood level you can expect based on what kind of supplement regimen you take. With 25(OH)D levels below 20 ng/ml, many people were taking 1000 IU to try to break 30, 40, 50 ng/ml thresholds, based on their physician’s poor advice.
We displayed a big poster of Cedric Garland and Grassroots Health’s chart (displayed below) on what kind of supplement regimen they need to take to get into sufficient ranges. In my opinion, every physician should have a copy of this chart and the paper it stems from. Dr. Cannell blogged about this paper last week. Considering we do not know what the sun exposure and dietary habits will be for every individual, should this paper not act as thee go to source for what kind of supplement regimen an individual should start on?
Lastly and mostly, Farmers’ Market attendees with no background on vitamin D were often worried about the seemingly high dose, often citing the 5000 IU figure, and not the 1250% daily value. This has me believe that the vitamin D “revolution” would have a great more deal of success if we switched from IU to µg, as the general public would be more willing to take 125 µg than 5000 IU. A study of this sort would be amusing.
In short, if an attendee had no background on vitamin D, they were usually unwilling to take a brochure or bottle of vitamin D and were skeptical of our organization in general. I do not blame them with the gluttony of misinformation and supplements out there that may do more harm than good. I believe this would be my response as well.
Out of this, questions loom. Should the Vitamin D Council take a more conservative approach? Should our organization stick to being educational, allowing others to make decisions for themselves? What kind of role should a nonprofit play in the health and wellness industry, and how can we be most effective in tackling the deficiency pandemic? Like the foundation felt, is handing out supplements too imposing? What are everyone’s thoughts?