To Your Health: The Vital Study: Vitamin D & Omega 3 – Exploring the Results

To Your Health: The Vital Study: Vitamin D & Omega 3 – Exploring the Results

Dr. Alan Safdi, a world-renowned internist and gastroenterologist with encyclopedic knowledge of mind-body wellness and preventative medicine, returns to Telluride Inside… and Out with a series of posts under the banner of “To Your Health.” His blogs will feature the most current information in his field: healthy, wellness and longevity. He starts this week with “The Vital Study: Vitamin D and Omega 3 Supplements. Exploring the Results.”

Some of that learning will also be showcased in three-day seminars Safdi and his partner, radiologist Dr. William Renner, are offering this winter at The Peaks Resort & Spa in Mountain Village to medical professionals, whose participation qualifies them for at least 16 hours of Category 1 CME or CEU credits. The general public is also welcome.

Subjects under discussion at the Symposiums will answer questions such as: What are the risks and rewards of supplements, including multivitamins? Should women be getting regular mammograms? What are the alternatives on the horizon for breast cancer screening? These and other important health-related subjects – micro-nutrients, common medical disorders and nutrition – will be addressed, revealing findings, not opinions, from evidence-based medical research.

For further information, email or go to Safdi’s Telluride Longevity Institute website. And please scroll down to find out about Dr. Safdi’s Live Longer Retreat wellness intensives planned for this coming summer.


Caveat emptor: Personally and as a doctor I am not a fan of supplements. For me, there is no better supplement than a well-balanced Mediterranean-style diet of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts. Follow that protocol and you should get you all the nutrients you need to help protect you from high-risk chronic diseases. But if you choose to supplement, I recommend discussing your choices with your trusted health care provider and, again in my opinion, the amount of Vitamin D should be guided by a blood test.

It is also worth noting that some of the key common characteristics of the populations that live the longest include a predominately plant-based diet with only occasional red meat, plus a very active lifestyle which includes being involved socially with your community, doing volunteer activities, surrounding yourself with people who support healthy behaviors, not smoking, empowering women, and doing whatever else is necessary to maintain low stress levels. Nowhere are supplements mentioned in those profiles.

The Vital Study:

We have been waiting for the results of a large study (VITAL Study) which looked at the benefits of supplementing the diet with Omega 3 (fish oil) and Vitamin D over a long period of time. The results suggest fish oil and Vitamin D are not majorly beneficial to heart health, but did show some benefit in preventing cancer incidence.

Study details:

The study enrolled 25,871 individuals who allowed multiple research questions to be answered in one trial.

In the Omega 3 study, 12,933 individuals were assigned to the fish oil supplements; 12,938 to placebo.

For the vitamin D segment, 12,927 individuals were assigned to receive the study supplement; 12,944 people were given placebo.

The dose of Vitamin D was 2,000 IU’s per day; Omega 3 intake was 1,000 mg (1 gram) per day.

Unfortunately the Vitamin D dosage was not adjusted for blood levels, which is common in medical practice. The other part of this well-done research which could be problematic for the cancer conclusions is that it was conducted over only 5.3 years. That, in my opinion, is very short period of time for a study designed to show a cancer benefit by supplement administration.


During 5.3 years of follow-up, 1,617 participants were diagnosed with cancer (793 taking vitamin D; 824 on placebo). A major cardiovascular event occurred in 386 people taking marine n-3 (Omega-3 fish oil) fatty acids versus 419 participants on placebo.

Now let’s dig  a little deeper in the headline: “Vitamin D and Omega-3 supplements do not prevent cancer or heart disease.”

As already mentioned, I believe just over five years is too short a time frame to look for cancer prevention by these agents. Again, I typically do not recommend supplements at all, however, some previous research has suggested a link between high Vitamin D levels and better survival rates in people going through breast cancer treatment.

So what about possible decrease in the development of breast and other cancers?

Prior researchers looked at the data of two randomized clinical trials with a total of 3,325 participants between them. Analysis revealed that people with higher blood concentrations of the Vitamin D biomarker were exposed to a significantly lower risk of breast cancer. They found that participants with blood levels of Vitamin D (25(OH)D) that were above 60 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) had one-fifth the risk of breast cancer compared to those with less than 20 ng/ml. Another prior study looking at colon cancer, the largest of its kind, showed low levels of vitamin D are linked with a significant increase in colorectal cancer risk. Conversely, higher levels appear to offer protection.

The results of subgroup analyses in the VITAL study raised the possibility of differential effects on cancer incidence according to BMI, with normal-weight participants who received Vitamin D having a lower incidence of cancer than those who received the placebo.

With regard to Omega-3s, the supplement did show reductions in total myocardial infarction (heart attacks) by 28%, with greatest reductions seen in African Americans and those with low dietary fish intake.

Overall, the results of the Vital Study suggest there might well be some benefit to ingesting fish oil supplements for those who are vegetarian or do not like fish. In people who don’t eat the recommended one or two servings of Omega-rich fish a week, the supplements were linked to a 40% reduction in heart attacks. But for people who followed the recommendation, there was no such association.

In regards to cancer prevention, as stated, I feel strongly the study would have benefited significantly had it been conducted over a much longer duration. However, again as mentioned above, having adequate blood (serum) Vitamin D levels may be of some benefit for colon and breast cancer prevention in normal weight individuals. If the Vitamin D dose had been adjusted by blood levels would we have seen more benefits?

Working with Dr. Safdi, more:

And back by popular demand, this summer, in partnership with the Peaks’ Spa, Dr. Safdi is once again offering three, week-long wellness intensives titled Live Longer Retreat.

Again, using an evidence-based, scientific approach to health and longevity and featuring an experienced staff of medical professionals, personal trainers, Pilates and yoga instructors, dietitians, and chefs, the focus is on your unique wellness profile. Each Live Longer Retreat is one-of-kind in the U.S. Those intensives, limited to only 10 – 15 participants, will include personal consultations, hiking, spinning, yoga, Pilates, talks and demonstrations related to nutrition, cooking classes, and more.

Go here to read a review of the experience by one very satisfied participant.

Feel free to sign up now to participate in a Live Longer Retreat  – or call 1-877-448-5416 for further information.

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