Low vitamin D may play role in osteoporosis Study suggests increased intake to avoid disease


A new study strongly suggests that widespread deficiencies of vitamin D may play a big role in causing the bone-wasting disease osteoporosis among older Americans.

The researchers attributed vitamin D deficiencies to two factors of growing importance: insufficient dietary intake and inadequate exposure to sunlight, which stimulates production of vitamin D in the skin.

The study findings, being published today in the New England Journal of Medicine, suggest not only that millions of American adults lack enough vitamin D in their blood to protect their bones but also that newly upgraded recommendations for vitamin D intake may be inadequate to prevent osteoporosis in many older people. Although calcium is the main nutrient of concern for preventing osteoporosis, vitamin D also plays an important role.

Deficient levels of vitamin D were found in the blood of 37 percent of those who reported consuming the newly recommended amounts of 400 international units (IU) a day for people 51 to 70 years old and 600 IU for those over 70. The previous recommendation for all adults had been 200 IU.

The study was conducted by Dr. Melissa Thomas and colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital among 290 patients, who might be expected to have lower than average levels of vitamin D. And indeed more than half of them did. Using a conservative measure of deficiency, Thomas said 57 percent of the patients were deficient, including 22 percent who were severely deficient.

Thomas said that although the percentage of people with vitamin D deficiency might be somewhat lower in healthy people, the problem was still likely to be widespread.

Pub Date: 3/19/98

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