Vitamin D cuts fall risk in nursing homes
Large doses of the nutrient may stimulate the production of muscle protein
Vitamin D is best known as a nutrient that helps build healthy bones, but a new study suggests it may also help seniors in nursing homes stay on their feet.
Researchers randomly assigned 125 seniors at a Boston nursing home to receive inactive placebo pills or one of four doses of vitamin D. They then compared the number of falls in each group over a five-month period.
The seniors getting the largest dose of vitamin D -- 800 international units (IU) -- had a 71 per cent reduction in the risk of falls compared with the other four groups combined. The placebo and lower-dose groups had three to four times the fall risk as those in the 800 IU group.
The mechanism by which vitamin D helps prevent falls is what lead author Dr. Douglas Kiel calls the million-dollar question.
"Vitamin D, although well recognized as important for the skeletal health of individuals, is also influencing our muscles. The muscle fibres have receptors on them for vitamin D," Kiel says. "One theory is there is something that is occurring rather quickly to reduce fall rates, and it could be through the muscle."
Once vitamin D binds to its receptors on muscle, that muscle begins to activate the genes that control the manufacture of muscle protein, Kiel says.
Based on the study findings, Kiel recommends nursing home residents take at least 800 IU of vitamin D daily to help reduce fall risks. A higher dose may be required for maximum benefit, since about two-thirds of the study participants were also taking a multivitamin containing 400 IU of vitamin D.
Kiel says many seniors in nursing homes get the bulk of their vitamin D from a multivitamin that likely contains 400 IU or less.
The study results are probably not applicable to seniors living in the community, whose nutrition and activity patterns are very different from those in nursing homes.
With files from The Medical Post.