AsianScientist (May 9, 2011) – A study by Neuroscience Research Australia has found that low vitamin D levels are associated with an increased risk of falls in the elderly, particularly in men.
The team, led by Dr. Jasmine Menant, investigated the relationship between vitamin D levels and falls in people aged 70-90 years.
The results showed that about one third of participants were vitamin D deficient. This same group was also physically weaker, had a slower reaction time, poorer balance and slower gait, and performed worse in cognitive function tests.
Amongst men, vitamin D deficiency was associated with an increase in falls.
In explaining the results, Menant says that sunshine and vitamin D are essential for the maintenance of physical strength and cognitive abilities.
“Our study shows the importance of ensuring that vitamin D levels are adequate in all older people, particularly as the benefits seem to extend beyond cognition and the musculoskeletal system to our ability to prevent ourselves from falling,” she said.
Vitamin D is produced by the skin after exposure to sunlight. With aging, the skin’s ability to produce vitamin D is diminished. Also, many elderly people spend more time indoors due to frailty, immobility, poor health, or a fear of getting skin cancer.
“Our study suggests that a balance is required between avoiding an increase in the risk of skin cancer by excessive sun exposure and achieving enough sun exposure to maintain adequate vitamin D levels,” Menant said.
“In particular, those with lower cognitive and physical performance may benefit from spending more time outdoors or taking vitamin D supplements,” she said.
Current recommendations from Osteoporosis Australia and the Cancer Council Australia state that people should expose the face, arms and hands to direct sunlight for a few minutes a week in summer, and for 2-3 hours a week in winter.
Source: Neuroscience Research Australia.
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