Many health providers recommend vitamin D supplements as a way to build muscle strength and prevent falls in elders. According to a new study, however, high doses of vitamin D don't improve mobility for the elderly, and actually increase the risk of falling.
The study looked at 200 people of 70 years of age who had experienced falling over the previous year. Two-thirds were women and almost 60 percent had low levels of vitamin D. The people were divided into three groups and given vitamin D3 that is available via over-the-counter supplements:
- One group took 800 International Units (IU) of vitamin D a day.
- A second group received an 800 IU dose plus a vitamin D product called calcifediol (also known as calcidiol).
- The third group received the equivalent of 2,000 IU of vitamin D a day.
It was expected that the higher doses of vitamin D would help build strong leg muscles and reduce the risk of falling. Instead, two-thirds of those taking the higher dose of vitamin D and vitamin D plus calcifediol experienced falls. The lowest-dose group (those receiving 800 IU a day) had the greatest improvement in leg strength and function among the three groups. Explanations for these findings include the following:
- There may be an ideal range for vitamin D in elders, and if you exceed this limit, the risk of falling increases (especially in those frail individuals with prior falls).
- High doses of vitamin D might disrupt normal muscle activity, which can lead to falls.
There are several take-a-ways from this study:
- Never assume that because something is called a “vitamin,” it is safe. Never take more of any vitamin than the recommended dose.
- Vitamin D generally isn’t harmful in routine doses. The Institute of Medicine recommends elders should get about 800 IU per day. Elders should talk with their doctors about the best way to get vitamin D.
- Until the safety of larger doses of vitamin D are established, it is better to either get enough vitamin D from diet (tuna, sardines, milk, yogurt, etc.), daily sun exposure or by taking more modest daily vitamin supplements (800 IU) if one has a vitamin D deficiency.
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Rein Tideiksaar Ph.D., PA-C (or Dr. Rein as he is commonly referred to) is the president of FallPrevent, LLC, Blackwood, N.J., a consulting company that provides educational, legal and marketing services related to fall prevention in the elderly. Dr. Tideiksaar is a gerontologist (healthcare professional who specializes in working with elderly patients) and a geriatric physician's assistant. Check out Dr. Rein’s professional profile on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/dr-rein/6/759/592. If you have any questions about preventing falls, please feel free to email Dr. Rein at firstname.lastname@example.org.