Wearing your pants pulled up to your armpits may make you look old. Eavesdropping on tween conversation may make you feel old. But it turns out, missing out on vitamin D will make you act old – your bones, at least. A new study suggests that a deficiency in vitamin D can significantly accelerate the bone aging process. The study was published in Science Translational Medicine and noted on sciencedaily.com.
Vitamin D deficiency is a widespread medical condition that has been linked to the health and fracture risk of human bone due to low calcium intake and reduced bone density. However, a team of U.S. and German scientists led by researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California (UC) Berkeley demonstrated that vitamin D deficiency also reduces bone quality, according to the release.
The body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. If it doesn't have enough D, the body leaches the calcium from our bones to maintain the needed calcium levels in our blood. This hampers the mineralization process required for the formation of new bone mass. In children, vitamin D deficiency can lead to rickets. In adults, vitamin D deficiency causes osteomalacia, a softening of the bones associated with defective mineralization that results in bone pain, muscle weakness, and increased risk of bone deformation and fracture.
“The assumption has been that the main problem with vitamin D deficiency is reduced mineralization for the creation of new bone mass, but we’ve shown that low levels of vitamin D also induces premature aging of existing bone,” says Robert Ritchie, who led the U.S. portion of this collaboration, in the release. Ritchie holds joint appointments with Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and the University of California (UC) Berkeley’s Materials Science and Engineering Department.
“Unraveling the complexity of human bone structure may provide some insight into more effective ways to prevent or treat fractures in patients with vitamin D deficiency,” says Björn Busse, of the Department of Osteology and Biomechanics at the University Medical Center in Hamburg, Germany, who led the German portion of the team, in the release.
To test this hypothesis, Busse and his German team collected samples of iliac crest bone cores from 30 participants (ouch!), half of whom were deficient in vitamin D and showed early signs of osteomalacia. After analyzing the bones with nifty hi-tech tools, they found “In situ fracture mechanics measurements and CT-scanning of the crack path indicated that vitamin D deficiency increases both the initiation and propagation of cracks by 22- to 31-percent,” according to the release. The researchers conclude that “vitamin-D levels should be checked and kept on well-balanced levels to maintain the structural integrity of bones and avoid mineralization defects and aging issues that can lead to a risk of fractures.”
Exactly when you take vitamin D may be important as well. According to a new study, taking calcium and vitamin D before exercise may influence how bones adapt to exercise.