Vitamin D Cuts Seniors’ Risk of Falling

For the elderly, protection against falls might be a multivitamin away, new research indicates.

A group of Swiss investigators found that taking a supplement of vitamin D for 9 months appeared to cut the risk of falling among older people in half.

Vitamin D appeared to confer the benefit only among the elderly who also consumed at least 512 milligrams per day of calcium – nearly one-half the current recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for adults, according to the report in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

These findings suggest that vitamin D supplements can “significantly and safely” reduce an elderly person’s risk of falling, Dr. Laurent Dukas, of the Geriatric University Clinic in Basel, and colleagues write.

Vitamin D is essential to healthy teeth and bones, and it helps the body absorb and use calcium. In the U.S. and other developed countries, however, elderly people are often vitamin D deficient because of a vitamin D-poor diet and lack of exposure to sunlight, an important source of the vitamin.

Vitamin D deficiency can increase the risk of broken bones, particularly in the elderly. For instance, scientists have shown that large doses of vitamin D, taken only every four months, can cut the risk of broken bones among 65- to 85-year-olds.

During the current study, Dukas and his team followed 378 community-dwelling elderly people for 36 weeks. Half of the study participants received alfacalcidol, a form of vitamin D, and the other half received an inactive placebo.

By the end of the study, the researchers found that people who took alfacalcidol and consumed more than 512 milligrams of calcium per day were 55 percent less likely to fall than people who were not given alfacalcidol.

Furthermore, people who took vitamin D supplements experienced a 38 percent drop in levels of calcium-regulating parathyroid hormone (PTH). Too much PTH can cause calcium to be leached out of bones, making them more susceptible to fracture.

Also, previous research has shown that high levels of PTH are associated with decreased muscle strength, and a higher risk of falling.

Study source: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, February 2004.

(Received via Yahoo! news alert; (c) Reuters.)

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