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Vitamin D may improve physical function for the elderly

April 26, 2010

Seniors with higher blood levels of vitamin D are also likely to have better physical function, suggests a new study.

In the study, blood levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D – the storage form of the vitamin in the body – were measured in 2’788 people with an average age of 75 at the start of the study, two years later, and then again after four years (1). These levels were then related to the physical function of the participants, measured by a variety of tests including how quickly they could walksix metres, how quickly they could rise from a chair five times, and how well they maintained their balance when asked to adopt a challenging position.

The data showed thatparticipants with the highest levels of vitamin D levels had better physical function. On the other hand, of the participants with the lowest physical function 90 per cent of them had insufficient or deficient levels of vitamin D.

The study does not prove causality, however. Since we make vitamin D on exposure to sunlight, it is possible that people with better physical function have higher levels simply because they were able to get outside more often. If future trials support the hypothesis that higher vitamin D may increase physical function in the elderly then increases in recommended intakes may be needed, the researchers commented. Current dietary recommendations are based primarily on vitamin D's effects on bone health. It is possible that higher amounts of vitamin D are needed for the preservation of muscle strength and physical function as well as other health conditions, the scientists concluded.

Vitamin D is well known to support muscle function, and the science supporting the link is sufficiently robust,confirms the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA).

References

  1. Houston D.K. et al. Vitamin D status and lower extremity function: The Health ABC Study. Presentation at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Meeting in Anaheim, USA. April 2010.