No benefit for over-70s taking higher doses of vitamin D, study finds

Over-70s gain no benefit from taking higher dose vitamin D supplements to improve bone strength and reduce the risk of falls, a long term study has found.

Older people have been encouraged to take supplements of the sunshine vitamin to keep bones and muscles healthy.

But a research project by Newcastle University has found there is no gain for people taking vitamin D in doses higher than what they would receive from a balanced and healthy diet.

The study looked at almost 400 over-70s who were randomly allocated one of three doses of vitamin D – the equivalent to a daily dose of 10, 20 or 40 micrograms.

The study, backed by Versus Arthritis, was to measure in these older people the effect of vitamin D supplements on the change in bone mineral density (BMD), a recognised indicator of bone strength.

The findings, which have been published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, revealed there was no change in BMD over 12 months between the three doses.

But the project did show there were benefits to older people’s bone metabolism.

Dr Terry Aspray, of Newcastle University’s Institute of Cellular Medicine, led the research project and said: “Vitamin D deficiency is common in older people, and it may lead to bone loss, impairment of muscle function and an increased risk of falls and fractures.

“The results from previous studies assessing the effect of vitamin D on bone mineral density have yielded conflicting results, and our study is a significant contribution to the current debate.

“While our findings do not support evidence of the benefit of high dose vitamin D supplements, at least on bone mineral density, we do, however, identify that higher doses of the vitamin may have beneficial effects on bone metabolism and that they are safe for older people.”

His advice was for people to maintain a healthy, balanced diet, get adequate exposure to the sun and to take regular exercise to maintain bone strength.

He said: “While some may need to take vitamin D supplements, there is little benefit to taking more than 10 micrograms a day.”

Benjamin Ellis, Versus Arthritis Senior Clinical Policy Adviser, said: “The current guidance is still that people at risk of low vitamin D should consider taking a daily vitamin D supplement, as should everyone during the winter months.

“Work is needed to implement effective strategies to prevent falls and fractures among older people, and to understand the role of medications and dietary supplements in this.”

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