Testing vitamin D levels in most patients is ‘costly, confusing and without credibility’

Writing in the medical journal The Lancet, Professor Naveed Sattar of the Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences, says many such tests are ‘costly, confusing and without credibility’.

In the article Prof Sattar highlights a massive rise in demand for vitamin D tests, with Glasgow Royal Infirmary – the main provider of these tests in Scotland – seeing requests rising from 18,682 in 2008 to 37,830 in 2010. He and colleagues also cite a London hospital which has seen a six-fold increase over four years, and explain that there are similar patterns of rising vitamin D measurement requests in North America.

Prof Sattar believes the requests for vitamin D test are fuelled by a widespread but as yet unproven belief that vitamin D supplements could alleviate a range of illnesses and urges doctors to think twice before asking for Vitamin D measurements.

He said: “Whether vitamin D inadequacy has a predisposing relation with health consequences that could be avoided by intervention – for example, by supplementation – needs to be established. We must remain cautious about the recommendation of widespread supplementation for chronic disease prevention since the current evidence falls well short of demonstrating causal associations for many conditions outside of the bone area.

“In short, widespread testing of asymptomatic people’s vitamin D status is unhelpful. We urge all clinicians to stop and think critically before measuring vitamin D, particularly in conditions not linked to bone disease. Such practice will avoid many unnecessary tests, reduce laboratory backlog, and save a lot of health service time and money without affecting patient health.”

He does state that for conditions such as rickets and osteomalacia, vitamin D supplementation has been proven to be beneficial.

The vitamin is needed by the body for normal and healthy bone growth and is synthesised by the body when exposed to sunlight. It can also be found in some foods such as oily fish and in small quantities in eggs and mushrooms, among other things.

For more information contact Stuart Forsyth in the University of Glasgow Media Relations Office on 0141 330 4831 or email [email protected]