Older individuals need lots of vitamin D to prevent a fall

October 27, 2009

A daily dose of vitamin D cuts your risk of falling substantially, researchers report, but not just any dose will do. "It takes 700 to 1000 international units (IU) of vitamin D per day and nothing less will work," Dr. Heike A. Bischoff-Ferrari, who directs the Centre on Aging and Mobility at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, notes in a communiqué. Those recommendations - which are higher than that of the U.S. Institute of Medicine -- are based on the results of eight studies that looked at vitamin D supplements for fall prevention among more than 2,400 adults aged 65 and older.

Each year, 1 in 3 people aged 65 and older, and 1 in 2 aged 50 and older, fall at least once. Nine percent of these mishaps require a trip to the emergency room and around 6 percent result in a fracture. Many elderly people who fall end up in assisted living homes.

The researchers looked at evidence for the two forms of the vitamin: Vitamin D3 or Cholecalciferol which is more readily absorbed by the body and more potent than vitamin D2 or Ergocalciferol, the form often found in multivitamins. The analysis of all eight studies, posted online today in the British Medical Journal shows that at the higher dose of 700 to 1000 IU vitamin D, the benefit on fall prevention is significant -- at least 19 percent, to 26 percent with vitamin D3, and Vitamin D3 seemed more potent than D2 Falls were not notably reduced with daily doses of vitamin D lower than 700 IU. Several other studies not included in the review also have shown that vitamin D improves strength and balance, and bone health in the elderly, the researchers note.

The current findings provide an argument to revise the recommendations, increasing the recommended doses for Vitamin D.

Also and importantly the synthetic forms of vitamin D marketed as "active," such as calcitriol, did not seem to be more effective than standard vitamin D supplements, the researchers found. Such supposedly active forms are more expensive and carry a higher risk of elevated calcium levels. Moreover, the effect of 700 to 1000 IU vitamin D daily kicks in "in a few months and is sustained over years, and the benefit is independent of age and present in those living at home and those living in nursing homes," Bischoff-Ferrari noted. The study is published online ahead of print in the website October 2 nd , 2009 for the British Medical Journal.