The risk of falling increases with age, and two-thirds of people who have a fall will fall again within six months. So it’s no surprise that the fear of sustaining a serious injury from falling is quite common among seniors.
But what if you could help prevent a fall from happening? And what if that solution cost less than $20 a month?
According to a recent study review from the University of Zurich, vitamin D just may be the answer.
The Role of Vitamin D in Muscle Health
A Swiss researcher set out to discover what role vitamin D plays in muscle health. Turns out, there are four rather compelling factors.
First, hallmarks of vitamin D deficiency include weakness of the proximal muscles (those that attach your limbs and neck to your body), muscle pain, and difficulty walking.
Second, the vitamin D receptor is activated in muscle tissue, and activating it may produce new protein synthesis in the muscle itself.
Third, observational studies have shown that serum blood levels of vitamin D correlate to muscle strength and/or lower extremity function in seniors.
Fourth, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies have found that vitamin D supplementation increases muscle strength and balance while also reducing risk of falling in seniors.
Let’s look at each of these in more detail.
Vitamin D Deficiency and Receptor Sites
Biopsy studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency correlates to muscle atrophy and that supplementing with vitamin D increases muscle fibers in seniors. Additionally, research has indicated that people with osteomalacia (soft bones due to vitamin D deficiency) also have muscle weakness.
When it comes to vitamin D receptor sites, it can be a bit scientific and minutely biological, but the gist is that there are vitamin D receptor sites located within muscle tissues. Think of it as a lock built right into your muscle tissues and the only key that will fit into the lock is vitamin D. Once vitamin D finds this lock, it binds to it and “unlocks” new protein synthesis. This is significant because protein is the key building block of muscle. So producing protein right in the muscle itself is pretty great.
Vitamin D and Muscle Weakness
While we’ve already looked at how vitamin D deficiency is tied to muscle weakness from a biological standpoint, let’s take a look at more real-world examples.
First, three different double-blind, placebo-controlled studies found that when seniors (aged 65-plus) took 800 IU of vitamin D, they enjoyed a 4 percent to 11 percent increase in lower extremity strength and function, as well as a 28 percent improvement in unsteadiness, or body sway.
And pooled data from two studies of vitamin D deficient participants (serum blood vitamin D levels less than 25 nmol/l) showed that supplementation had a large effect on hip muscle strength.
Vitamin D and Fall Prevention
Lastly, when it comes to preventing falls, vitamin D seems to really shine.
First, as for preventing the actual fall, several meta-analyses have shown a direct connection between vitamin D use and fewer falls. One particular meta-analysis of eight double-blind, placebo-controlled studies found that high-dose vitamin D supplementation (700-1,000 IU per day) reduced the risk of falls by preventing muscle atrophy. (See how this all ties together!)
Moreover, four major government and medical groups agree that vitamin D is an effective treatment to help prevent falls in seniors. They are:
- Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) for the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force
- 2010 American Geriatric Society/British Geriatric Society Clinical Practice Guideline
- 2010 Assessment by the International Osteoporosis Foundation
- 2011 vitamin D recommendations from the Endocrine Society
Additionally, vitamin D plays a role in the devastating effects of a fall, namely a fracture. Not only does vitamin D work to keep your muscles strong and stable, thereby preventing the fall in the first place, but it also helps your body absorb calcium and boost bone mineral density. So, should you fall, your bones will be less brittle and may be strong enough to withstand the impact.
This is critical given that 90 percent of all fractures are due to falls, and the incidence of falls increase with both age and muscle weakness.
But not just any old amount of vitamin D will do. Study after study has found that a high dose is the way to go, with ranges between 700 IU and 1,000 IU a day wielding the best results.
Get Your Vitamin D
Clearly, vitamin D is a powerhouse nutrient. We’ve seen it boast immune benefits, bone health benefits, skin benefits and heart benefits. And now we can add muscle strength to the list.
If you aren’t already taking vitamin D, what are you waiting for? Be sure to take vitamin D3 in the form of cholecalciferol — the form best absorbed and utilized by the human body — and aim for 700–1,000 IU a day.
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