Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sunshine and the Elderly

Peak performance isn’t just for elite athletes. While Vitamin D may make a difference in performance for those competing at the highest levels, it can also make a difference for the rest of us seeking to improve or maintain physical performance in our daily lives.

According to a recent New York Times article:

Last year, a 15-member team of nutrition experts noted in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that “randomized trials using the currently recommended intakes of 400 I.U. vitamin D a day have shown no appreciable reduction in fracture risk.”

“In contrast,” the experts continued, “trials using 700 to 800 I.U. found less fracture incidence, with and without supplemental calcium. This change may result from both improved bone health and reduction in falls due to greater muscle strength.”

A Swiss study of women in their 80s found greater leg strength and half as many falls among those who took 800 I.U. of vitamin D a day for three months along with 1,200 milligrams of calcium, compared with women who took just calcium. Greater strength and better balance have been found in older people with high blood levels of vitamin D.

Dr. John Cannell of the Vitamin D Council notes in his newsletter, Why Athletic Performance Matters, that:

Many people don't realize how fatal falls can be in the elderly. In 2003, the CDC reported that 13,700 persons over 65 died from falls in the USA, with 1.8 million ending up in emergency rooms for treatment of nonfatal injuries from falls. Falls cause the majority of hip fractures which, if they don't result in death, often result in admission to a nursing home. That's 13,700 deaths, hundreds of thousands of surgeries, countless nursing home admissions, and tens of billions in health care costs every year—all from impaired athletic performance. That's why it matters.

A Reuters report on how Vitamin D affects physical function in elderly, finds that "Older men and women who fail to get enough vitamin D -- either from their diets or exposure to the sun -- are at heightened risk for muscle weakness and poor physical performance, a study shows. This is troubling, researchers say, given the high numbers of older folks who are deficient in vitamin D." According to research done by Dr. Denise K. Houston at the Wake Forest University of Medicine: "...physical performance and grip strength were 5 to 10 percent lower in people with low blood levels of vitamin D levels, compared with those with normal levels."

However simply getting more exposure to the sun may not be enough without other lifestyle changes. Being overweight can reduce Vitamin D levels in the blood according to this Science Daily report:

It's not yet clear why overweight elderly adults have low levels of vitamin D in their blood. However, researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University (USDA HNRCA) have found that lack of sun exposure may not account for low levels of vitamin D in elders who are overweight. ... "The most likely explanation seems to be that vitamin D is sequestered in fat tissue, reducing its entry into the blood."

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