Older adults who don't get enough vitamins may be at risk for disability and mobility problems, new research suggests. According to a report published in the Journal of Gerontology Medical Sciences, treating older persons who suffer from low vitamin D may reduce future mobility problems for members of this group.
Denise Houston from the Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, NC led a research team which investigated the association between 25-Hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D), pituitary hormone (PTH) and the time when disability and limited mobility sets among older black and white adults during a 6 year follow up period.
To accomplish their objective Houston and her colleagues utilized data from 2,099 able bodied older adults between the ages of 70 - 79 years who had volunteered to participate in the Health, Aging Body and Composition Study.
To be eligible for the study, each person was required to be able to walk one quarter mile, climb 10 steps or perform basic living activities without difficulty. During the 12 month follow up period, which took place between 1998 - 1999, researchers measured participants' PTH and serum vitamin D.
During the 6 years of follow up, Houston's team learned some valuable information about the relationship between vitamin D and mobility which included the following:
35 % had vitamin D than less than or equal to 75 nmol/L
36.1% had vitamin D 50 to less than 75 nmol/L
28.9% had vitamin D 50 nmol/L
738 participants reportedly experienced limited mobility over 6 years of follow up
245 participants reported disabled mobility over 6 years of follow up
Moreover, those with less than 50nmol/L were more likely to have been measured in spring or winter and tended to have lower cognitive functioning, higher BMI and elevated PTH. These individuals also had slower observed and self-reported walking speeds.
Participants with serum vitamin D less than 50 nmol/L and between 50 nmol/L to less than 75 nmol/L were at greater risk for mobility and disability than people with vitamin D serum levels at or above 75 nmol/L.
Houston and her colleagues also noted that participants who reportedly took multivitamins or vitamin D supplements were more likely to have vitamin D levels at or above 75 nmol/L (this suggests that vitamin D supplements can have a positive impact on mobility).
The researchers reported that participants with less than 50 nmol/L vitamin D were likely measured during the winter and spring seasons. Moreover, these people had a tendency to belong to the following categories:
diagnosed with obstructive pulmonary disease
Vitamin D's Role in Mobility
Houston pointed to vitamin D's role in calcium transport and protein synthesis as possible explanations for the the limited mobility and disability issues experienced by the participants. Vitamin D is also required for healthy bones. It's a well established fact that vitamin D deficiency can increase bone fracture risk.
Vitamin D is naturally produced within the body or obtained in the diet. But why did so many participants in the Health, Aging and Body Composition study have low vitamin D? I'll present several plausible theories in the following paragraphs.
First of all, when skin is exposed to ultraviolet sunlight, vitamin D is produced through a photochemical reaction. Older people who don't have opportunities to spend time outdoors may lose this natural source of vitamin D.
Secondly, darker pigmented skin, which protects against the harmful effects of UV light, may hinder synthesis of vitamin D thereby leading to lower vitamin D levels among some of the black participants.
Finally, some people may not get enough vitamin D in their regular diet. Although fortified cereals, milk, and fish oil are natural sources, for any host of reasons, a number of people simply won't consume foods that contain this vital nutrient.
Just how much vitamin D is needed is open to debate, however.
It's important to bear in mind that while the Institute of Medicine's recommended 50 nmol/L or higher is adequate for bone preservation, the results of the ABC Health Study suggest that higher concentrations may be necessary for the treatment or prevention of disability and limited mobility in older persons.
Expressing the need for continued research in this area, the team said: "Given that remediation of low 25(OH)D can be done easily and inexpensively with vitamin D supplements, definitive trials of vitamin D supplementation are needed to determine whether increasing 25(OH)D in older adults can improve or prevent further declines in physical function and mobility in particular."
Considering the impact that lack of vitamin D has on mobility, that is very sound advice. However, people should also be wary of getting too much vitamin D, because overexposure to sunlight can lead to skin cancer.
For a list of dietary sources of vitamin D, please visit the US Department of Agriculture's Nutrient Database.
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Houston, D., Neiberg, R., Tooze, J., Hausman, D., Johnson, M., Cauley, J., Bauer, D., Shea, M., Schwartz, G., Williamson, J., Harris, T., Kritchevsky, S., & , . (2012). Low 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Predicts the Onset of Mobility Limitation and Disability in Community-Dwelling Older Adults: The Health ABC Study The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences DOI: 10.1093/gerona/gls136
"Low Vitamin D Linked To Mobility Problems In Older Adults,Study" copyright © 2012 Living Fit, Healthy and Happy(SM). All Rights Reserved.