A new study concludes that among older adults -- especially those who are frail -- low levels of vitamin D can mean a much greater risk of death.
The randomized, nationally representative study found that older adults with low vitamin D levels had a 30 percent greater risk of death than people who had higher levels.
Overall, people who were frail had more than double the risk of death than those who were not frail. Frail adults with low levels of vitamin D tripled their risk of death over people who were not frail and who had higher levels of vitamin D.
"What this really means is that it is important to assess vitamin D levels in older adults, and especially among people who are frail," said the lead researcher from Oregon State University.
Past studies have separately associated frailty and low vitamin D with a greater mortality risk, but this is the first to look at the combined effect. This study examined more than 4,300 adults older than 60 using data from the U.S. Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
The study suggests that there is an opportunity for intervention with those who are in the pre-frail group, but could live longer, more independent lives if they get proper nutrition and exercise.
Frailty is when a person experiences a decrease in physical functioning characterized by at least three of the following five criteria: muscle weakness, slow walking, exhaustion, low physical activity, and unintentional weight loss. People are considered "pre-frail" when they have one or two of the five criteria.
Because of the cross-sectional nature of the survey, researchers could not determine if low vitamin D contributed to frailty, or whether frail people became vitamin D deficient because of health problems.
"If you have both, it may not really matter which came first because you are worse off and at greater risk of dying than other older people who are frail and who don't have low vitamin D," the researchers said. Vitamin D impacts muscle function and bones, so it makes sense that it plays a strong role in frailty.
About 70 percent of Americans, and up to a billion people worldwide, have insufficient levels of vitamin D. And during the winter months in northern climates, it can be difficult to get enough just from the sun. The current vitamin D intake guidelines are 600 IU adults to age 70, and 800 for those older than 70. However some individual may need a higher intake to maintain a sufficient blood level. The safe upper limit is 4000 IU per day.
Source: European Journal of Clinical Nutrition
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