Vitamin D deficiency known to increase susceptibility to a wide range of diseases may also be linked to mobility issues and disability in the aged, claims a new Dutch study.

According to experts, lack of the “sunshine nutrient” can affect physical performance and strength in elderly. The study found vitamin D deficient individuals 55 and older struggled to perform daily activities like dressing and climbing stairs.

Vitamin D is crucial to muscle function. Having an insufficient amount can lead to reduced bone density, muscle weakness, osteoporosis and broken bones.

Lead author of the study author Evelien Sohl, of VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, said, “Seniors who have low levels of vitamin D are more likely to have mobility limitations and to see their physical functioning decline over time. Older individuals with these limitations are more likely to be admitted to nursing homes and face a higher risk of mortality.”

A six-year-study
In order to examine an association between vitamin D deficiency and physical functioning, the researchers carried out a study. Investigators tracked more than 1,300 people, aged 55 to 88, in the Netherlands for a period of six years.

They evaluated the vitamin D levels of participants and asked them questions pertaining to their performance of six functions of daily living. These included walking up and down 15 stairs without resting, dressing and undressing, sitting down in and standing up from a chair, cutting their toenails, walking outside for 5 minutes without resting, using personal or public transportation.

Outcome of the study
The analysis revealed subjects in the age bracket of 65 to 88 years with the lowest vitamin D levels were 1.7 times inclined to have at least one physical limitation as opposed to those with highest of the nutrient.

It was noted that participants (aged 55 to 65) with the lowest vitamin D levels doubled their odds of one physical limitation compared to those with the highest vitamin D levels.

The study found 70 percent of the subjects in the older age with inadequate vitamin D levels had at least one physical limitation, while those with sufficient or high vitamin D levels exhibited no physical limitations.

Moreover, it was noted that vitamin D deficient people were more prone to suffer additional physical limitations over time. These limitations occurred over the span of three years in the older age group and six years in the younger age group.

Sohl concluded, “Vitamin D supplementation could provide a way to prevent physical decline, but the idea needs to be explored further with additional studies.”

The study is published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Vitamin D: important nutrient for health
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in very few foods but is available as a dietary supplement. It may be obtained in the recommended amount from a well-balanced diet, including some enriched or fortified foods. It can also be found in fish liver oil, eggs, and fatty fish and supplements.

Vitamin D is important in maintaining bone health, in absorbing calcium and phosphorus, and in helping the immune system. The body manufactures vitamin D when exposed to sunshine, but people are spending more time indoors and are deficient of the nutrient. Hence they need to replenish it from other sources. For many, the simplest and most common source of vitamin D is in supplement form.

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