Vitamin D May Help Prevent Falls in Elderly
A number of uncontrolled studies have shown that prolonged vitamin D deficiency leads to muscle weakness and can often lead to disability. Several weeks or months of vitamin D supplementation will typically correct such deficiencies. One study found that blood levels of vitamin D were significantly lower in 349 elderly people who had poor muscle strength in their hands, were unable to climb stairs, and who had recently fallen, compared with the levels in people without these limitations. Another study showed that six months of treatment with vitamin D in vitamin D-deficient elderly women improved knee strength and walking distance. Studies have failed to show vitamin D supplementation improves muscle strength in older people with normal vitamin D levels.
Some studies suggest that taking supplemental vitamin D and calcium together decreases falls, reduces incidence of hip fractures, and increases bone mineral density. The effect of vitamin D with calcium appears to be better than when calcium is taken alone, suggesting additional benefit of vitamin D therapy. Some studies have found no benefit with vitamin D supplementation in lowering the incidence of falling. However, most of these trials tested healthy, older individuals who were not vitamin D-deficient, and therefore—based on the results of previous studies—not likely to show significant improvement with vitamin D supplementation.
Deficiency of vitamin D is common in older people and may be the result of a poor diet, lack of sunlight exposure, poor absorption in the intestines, or impairments in vitamin D metabolism due to liver or kidney disease. Vitamin D deficiency has a direct effect on muscle tissue, leading to muscle weakness and poor coordination, although the exact mechanism is not completely understood.
Although additional studies are needed, the evidence so far suggests that vitamin D supplementation may help preserve muscle strength and balance in high-risk groups, including frail and homebound elderly people, thereby preventing falls and fractures. The authors do not make any specific recommendations, but some physicians recommend taking 400 to 800 IU per day of supplemental vitamin D.2
1. Janssen HC, Samson MM, Verhaar HJ. Vitamin D deficiency, muscle function, and falls in elderly people. Am J Clin Nutr 2002;75:611–5.
2. Pfeifer M, Begerow B, Minne HW, et al. Effects of a short-term vitamin D and calcium supplementation on body sway and secondary hyperparathyroidism in elderly women. J Bone Miner Res 2000;15:1113–8.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of Garlic and Cholesterol: Everything You Need to Know (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice in Westport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
Copyright © 2002 Healthnotes, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.Vitamin D-deficient elderly people at risk for falls and fractures might benefit from vitamin D supplementation, according to a new review article in