Older adults who get supplemental vitamin D in their diets are less likely to slip and fall down, according to an analysis by Agricultural Research Service (ARS)*-funded scientists and their colleagues.
About one-third of people over age 65—and up to half of those over 80—get injured from falling every year. What's more, such falls lead to 40 percent of all nursing facility admissions and are the largest single cause of injury-related deaths among the elderly.
Bess Dawson-Hughes, a physician specializing in bone health and nutrition, along with colleagues in academia and medicine, researched all major vitamin D clinical trials in older populations conducted from January 1960 to February 2004. Dawson-Hughes is director of the Bone Metabolism Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts.
Based on five double-blind, randomized, controlled trials involving 1,237 participants, the researchers found that elderly people fell 22 percent less often if they took vitamin D supplements. The folks studied, who averaged about age 70, were in stable health and were either community dwelling or living in some type of care facility.
Previously, it had been shown that vitamin D supplementation was good for bone health and that very severe vitamin D deficiency led to muscle weakness.
But less was known about any association between milder vitamin D deficiency and muscle weakness or risk of falling. When the activated form of vitamin D binds to receptors in muscle tissue, it promotes growth and strengthens muscles, which can in turn reduce falls, according to Dawson-Hughes.
Fall-related injuries are likely to account for more than $32 billion in future medical-, hospital-, and rehabilitative-care costs annually, experts say. The findings underscore the importance of adequate vitamin D intake for the prevention of falls in the elderly and a need for further related studies. The paper was published in the April 2004 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
*ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency. www.ars.usda.gov/
By Rosalie Marion Bliss, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff. "“D”creasing Elders' Slips and Falls" was published in the October 2004 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.
Bess Dawson-Hughes is with the Bone Metabolism Laboratory, Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, 711 Washington St., Boston, MA 02111-1524; phone (617) 556-3064, fax (617) 556-3305.