~ 043010 Vitamin D Status Associated with Physical Function in Older Men and Women

Information presented on April 25, 2010 as part of the scientific program of the American Society for Nutrition at the Experimental Biology 2010 meeting in Anaheim, California, revealed the discovery of an association between higher vitamin D levels and improved physical functioning among older individuals. Physical function contributes significantly to quality of life, an important consideration in the quest for extended life spans.

Dr Denise Houston of Wake Forest University's Sticht Center on Aging and her colleagues analyzed data from 2,788 healthy participants in the Health, Aging, and Body Composition (Health ABC) study, which was designed to evaluate associations between body composition, long-term health conditions and mobility in older individuals. The subjects, who resided in Memphis and Pittsburgh, had an average age of 74.7 years. Blood samples obtained upon enrollment were analyzed for serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels. Lower extremity function, as assessed by tests of walking, balance, endurance and strength, was evaluated at the beginning of the study and at two and four years.

Over 90 percent of the study population was found to consume less vitamin D than the current recommendation. Although physical function decreased on average among all participants over the follow-up period, those who had high vitamin D levels at 75 nanomoles per liter or more at the beginning of the study retained better function, with improved physical performance scores and gait speed across all three time points compared to those whose levels were lowest at less than 50 nanomoles per liter.

The study is one of only a few to examine the longitudinal relationship between vitamin D levels and physical function. "Current dietary recommendations are based primarily on vitamin D's effects on bone health," Dr Houston remarked. "It is possible that higher amounts of vitamin D are needed for the preservation of muscle strength and physical function as well as other health conditions. However, clinical trials are needed to definitively determine whether increasing 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations through diet or supplements has an effect on these non-traditional outcomes."

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