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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Low vitamin D levels linked to increased risk of falling in elderly populations

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Older men and women with vitamin D deficiency are more likely to fall multiple times in the course of a year than their peers with adequate vitamin D levels, researchers in The Netherlands have found. Vitamin D may be best known for its role, along with calcium, in maintaining bone health. However, vitamin D is also important for muscle mass and strength, and compromised muscle function may explain the fall risk seen in this study, according to the researchers. The findings suggest that older adults should be sure to get adequate vitamin D from food and multivitamins, lead study author Dr. Marieke B. Snijder, of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, told Reuters Health. However, she added, clinical trials are needed to prove that this actually prevents falls. Snijder and her colleagues report their findings in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. For their study, the researchers measured blood levels of vitamin D in 1,231 adults age 65 and older, then followed them for one year to track any falls they suffered. During that time, 33 percent fell at least once, according to "fall calendars" that each participant kept. Just over 11 percent fell two or more times. Overall, men and women who were deficient in vitamin D at the outset were 78 percent more likely than those with adequate levels to fall at least twice. Their risk of falling three or more times was more than doubled.
Gary Moller comments:
Notice that the good researcher conveniently omitted to recommend sunlight as a source of vitamin D! Is it because it is not PC to make such recommendations?

I am currently investigating falls prevention programmes in NZ, of which there are a couple. The Otago exercise programme to prevent falls in older adults is a well researched example that reduces falls injuries by about 35% in over 65's.

While I am impressed with the programme's format and content, I am dismayed that none of the programmes I have looked at so far, this one included, seem to pay any attention at all to assessing participants' nutritional status (including vitamin D) and then correcting any identified deficiencies. When up to 90% of some elderly populations are nutritionally deficient in some way, assessing the nutritional status of elderly populations who are at high risk of falling would seem an obvious thing to do. But it isn't. With regards to vitamin D, it is hardly ever tested. When was the last time you had it done?

If an elderly person is, say, vitamin D deficient, low in dietary protein, anaemic or washed out of essential minerals and vitamins, then no amount of exercise therapy is going to work all that well. While there may be initial gains, this is hardly likely to be sustained and the individual will quickly back-slide. Strong bodies are not created out of thin air - they need good food to be built and to then be maintained over the long term.

I have demonstrated many times with elderly people under my care that it is possible to double their physical work capacity in as little as 12 weeks by taking a comprehensive approach to their care, including tidying their nutrition.

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