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April 28, 2004

Sunshine Vitamin Cuts Risk Of Falls In The Elderly

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) -- The findings from a new study suggest that older persons may cut their risk of falls by more than 20 percent by taking vitamin D supplements. Further studies, however, are needed to determine what type of vitamin D works best and at what dose, and to clarify the benefits in men.

Although a few studies have shown a reduced risk of falls with vitamin D use, many others have failed to show a benefit. To better understand whether vitamin D protects against falls, Dr. Heike A. Bischoff-Ferrari, from Harvard Medical School in Boston, and colleagues analyzed data from ten previous studies that looked at the association in elderly populations.

Five of the studies were included in the main analysis, while the remaining five were used to verify the results, according to the report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In the main analysis, vitamin D users were 22 percent less likely to experience a fall than patients who received inactive "placebo" pills or calcium. The authors estimate that 15 subjects would need to receive daily vitamin D supplements in order to prevent one person from falling.

In the second analysis, the risk reduction seen with vitamin D use fell to 13 percent, but was still statistically significant, the investigators note. Moreover, the protective effects were not dependent on calcium use, duration of therapy, vitamin D type or gender.

Due to limited numbers of subjects, the protective effect observed for vitamin D use in men was not statistically significant, the authors point out.

"The role of calcium and the optimal amount necessary in combination with vitamin D could not be clearly determined," the researchers note.

SOURCE: Journal of the American Medical Association, April 28, 2004.

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