By Maureen Williams, ND
Healthnotes Newswire (June 7, 2007)—It is well known that physical activity is necessary for people to stay strong as they age, but now it appears that unsuspecting older people might have a vitamin D deficiency working against them. New research finds that getting enough vitamin D helps seniors stay strong.
Staying fit is a major concern to many people as they strive to remain independent while facing their later years. Physical fitness influences mental fitness and helps people avoid disability by reducing risk of chronic diseases.
Over the past few years there has been increasing awareness of vitamin D’s role in overall health. In addition to regulating how bones use calcium, vitamin D also controls the way calcium is absorbed and used by the body, influences immune function, and has some anticancer effects.
There are few food sources of vitamin D—fish and eggs are chief among them—so the body makes most of what it needs through a process that involves a reaction between sunlight and skin. As recognition of vitamin D’s importance has grown, so has concern about vitamin D deficiency due to low sun exposure and sunscreen use.
“In older adults, low vitamin D levels have been associated with muscle weakness, poor physical performance, balance problems, and falls, although findings from different studies are inconsistent,” the authors of the latest study pointed out. Their study, which further examined the relationship between vitamin D levels and strength in people age 65 and older, was published in the Journal of Gerontology.
Of the 976 people who participated in the study, 28.8% of the women and 13.6% of the men had vitamin D deficiency, and levels tended to be lower in the older people. Only 25.1% of the women and 49.0% of the men had vitamin D levels that were considered sufficient (double the level marking deficiency). People with vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency had lower scores on physical performance tests and handgrip strength than people with higher vitamin D levels.
The researchers then looked at handgrip strength and physical performance scores in people with higher vitamin D levels. They found that higher levels were still associated with greater strength even at three times the level considered to define deficiency. In other words, the optimal level of vitamin D might be quite a bit higher than previously thought.
“These results point out the high prevalence of vitamin D inadequacy in the elderly population. The range of implications of this are still being revealed through ongoing research,” commented Dr. Linda Dacey, who practices internal medicine at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire. “Based on these findings and the growing body of evidence, I think it is generally a good idea to recommend vitamin D supplements to people over 65.”
(J Gerontol 2007;62A:440–6)
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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