Vitamin D Supplements May Not Help Reduce Fall Risk In Seniors

First Posted: Jan 04, 2016 04:24 PM EST

A sufficient amount of vitamin D can help reduce the risk of diabetes, lower your chances of a heart attack, rheumatoid arthritis and even multiple sclerosis. This fat-soluble vitamin is found in some foods (certain types of fish, egg yolks, cheese and foods fortified with vitamin D), can be taken as a dietary supplement and is even produced when ultraviolet rays from sunlight strike the skin.

While adding a vitamin D supplement to your diet might help lower the risk for these and other health issues, new findings published in JAMA Internal Medicine show that higher doses of vitamin D don't seem to improve mobility in older individuals; in fact, higher doses of vitamin D may even increase the risk of falls for some seniors. This goes against previous findings, suggesting that doses of vitamin D help with mobility.

During this recent study, researchers recruited 200 people in Switzerland 70 and older who'd fallen in the previous year, according to Health Day. Close to 60 percent of the participants showed low levels of vitamin D and two-thirds were female.

Participants were divided into three groups and given a form of the vitamin called D3 that's commonly available in over-the-counter supplements.

One took the standard, currently recommended 24,000 IU of vitamin D a month, another took 60,000 IU a month and a final group took 24,000 IU of vitamin D plus 300 micrograms of calcifediol, a broken down form of vitamin D that's more readily available to muscle and bone.

After tracking the participants for a year, findings revealed that two-thirds of those who received vitamin D and vitamin D plus calcifediol experienced falls when compared to 48 percent of those on the lower dose. However, the other group on the lowest-dose showed the best improvements in leg function among the three.

"We expected that we would see more benefit by going to the higher doses of vitamin D," said study author Bischoff-Ferrari, via TIME. "Contrary to expectations, we found that actually the lowest dose was the most advantageous for any of the outcomes we looked at."

It's important to note that the study does not establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship linking increased doses of vitamin D to an increased risk of falls in seniors. However, there are possible theories that might explain the results. Researchers believe that higher doses of vitamin D could disrupt muscle activity that might increase the risk of falls or, perhaps, seniors who were on higher doses of vitamin D became more active--increasing their risk of falls.

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