Study Links Vitamin D Deficiency to Mobility Issues

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FIRST PERSON | New research directly ties a deficiency of Vitamin D in older adults to mobility limitations and other disabilities. The findings of the six-year study put a name on the culprit behind some of the most significant physical problems that plague American seniors.

Results from the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center research effort are among the earliest that looked at insufficient levels of Vitamin D and the onset of mobility limitations in older adults, according to Medical News Today. The North Carolina researchers published their conclusions in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.

Their project utilized data from the National Institute on Aging's Health, Aging, and Body study. Researchers defined subjects' limitations as any difficulty walking several blocks or climbing a flight of stairs. They considered disability to mean the inability to perform these activities.

Denise K. Houston, Ph.D., of Wake Forest University served as study director. The school indicates that the initial goals included a pilot study to find cost-effective ways to identify individuals at elevated risk for functional decline with insufficient vitamin D levels and gathering data useful for an eventual full-scale randomized trial. The more than 3,000 subjects consisted of black and white men and women between ages 70 and 79.

Researchers noted around a 30 percent elevated risk of limitations in mobility for those with low levels of vitamin D. The same group had nearly a two-fold greater risk of mobility disability.

Vitamin D is crucial to muscle function. Having an insufficient amount has already been linked to disorders such as high blood pressure, bone-density thinning, cardiovascular disease, and lung disease. Individuals get vitamin D from sun exposure, from foods rich in the vitamin, or from supplements. The Mayo Clinic suggests that as little as 10 minutes of daily sun exposure can prevent deficiencies.

However, older adults tend to spend less time outdoors than average. Houston recommends that individuals older than 70 get 800 International Units of vitamin D each day, either through diet or by taking supplements.

For several years, I have struggled with getting adequate levels of vitamin D. Although I undergo blood work every few months due to having Crohn's disease, until I experienced significant bone thinning, the tests never included vitamin D levels. When the doctor ordered the measurement, the extent of the deficiency was shocking.

The Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America indicates a vitamin D deficiency can result in increased disease activity and a reduced quality of life for patients with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, the most common inflammatory bowel diseases. Due to extreme deficiency, I had to take 50,000 International Units of this vitamin weekly for six months. Now that my levels are barely normal, I take 5,000 units a day of vitamin D to help maintain maximum mobility in my senior years.

Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She has a special interest in diseases and other conditions that affect quality of life.

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