A month ago I wrote a blog describing some research which found that supplementing elderly individuals with vitamin D led to improvements in their muscular strength without any physical training. I made the point that this sort of effect is important because it means vitamin D may be able to prevent disability. I also mentioned that vitamin D appears to have the ability to improve reaction times and balance. In theory, therefore, I suggested that vitamin D might also be able to help falls, which can have dire consequences, particularly for the elderly.
Recently, the British Medical Journal published a study on-line which reviewed the evidence regarding vitamin D therapy and risk of falling in the elderly . The review examined results from several separate studies.
This review revealed that supplementing individuals with vitamin D (at doses of 700-1000 IU per day) reduced the risk of falling by an average of 19 per cent. Low dose supplementation was not associated with a reduced risk of falling.
Higher vitamin D levels were associated with a reduced risk of falling. Levels of 60 nmol/l or more (24 ng/ml or more) were associated with a 23 per cent reduced risk of falling. Lower vitamin D levels were not associated with a reduced risk of falling.
This review shows that supplementation with vitamin D at a dose of at least 700 IU per day reduces the risk of falling. These results are promising, and give us yet another reason to think about optimising vitamin D levels in the elderly. The levels of supplementation used here were high compared to current recommended levels (400 IU), but low compared to what would be required to elevate blood levels to truly optimal levels (100 nmol/l or more).
It is possible that higher vitamin D dosages and blood levels may deliver more benefits in terms of fall risk reduction. More studies using higher vitamin D dosages would have to be performed to determine if greater benefits are to be had in this regard.
1. Bischoff-Ferrari HA, et al. Fall prevention with supplemental and active forms of vitamin D: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials BMJ 2009;339:b3692