- for longer periods
Vitamin D’s role in maintaining proper health is well documented. Still, many older people lack the nutrient and that increases their risk of bone fractures, blood poisoning, and disease complications that can eventually lead to hospitalization. Also, they risk prolonged hospitalization according to a new Irish study published in the scientific journal Nutrients. The scientists recommend giving vitamin D supplements to seniors to increase their blood levels of vitamin D. Other studies even suggest that this can protect against COVID-19, as low vitamin D status is associated with an increased risk of being hospitalized with the disease.
Vitamin D is important for our calcium absorption, bones, muscles, immune defense, circulatory system, brain, cognitive skills, blood sugar levels, and cancer protection. Vitamin D also counteracts chronic inflammation which is the common thread in most chronic diseases. Moreover, it counteracts hyperinflammation that can be life-threatening in connection with infections. Studies have shown a link between lack of vitamin D and an increased risk of various diseases and conditions that often lead to hospitalization. Included in this category are:
Bone fractures and hip fractures
This can be a result of weak muscles and osteoporosis. Research from Hvidovre Hospital in Denmark has shown that having sufficient levels of vitamin D in the blood can lower your risk of dying of the serious complications of a sustained hip fracture.
Infections and chronic pulmonary disease
Vitamin D is important to control the immune system and prevent it from overreacting with unwanted cytokine storm and hyperinflammation. Lack of vitamin D increases the risk of virus infections in the respiratory tract and the risk of being hospitalized as a result of a COVID-19 infection. A vitamin D deficiency also increases the risk of asthma and bacterial pneumonia.
A life-threatening condition that occurs when the immune system overreacts to an infection in the bloodstream, thereby causing cytokine storm and hyperinflammation. Lack of vitamin D increases the risk of sepsis. In Denmark, sepsis-related deaths account for 15 percent of all deaths, yet very little is known about the danger and the prevalence of the disease.
Multiple studies have shown that lack of vitamin D is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, including hypertension, heart failure, and ischemic heart disease that involves calcification of the coronary artery.
Cognitive decline and increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
Lack of vitamin D is often linked to dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and cognitive impairment, including such skills as observation, orientation, learning, thinking, language, and problem solving.
Vitamin D protects against several forms of cancer. Severe vitamin D deficiency may result in critically ill cancer patients being admitted to intensive care and dying within a year. For that reason, cancer patients that have completed intensive cancer therapy may benefit from taking a vitamin D supplement.
Direct link between vitamin D deficiency and hospitalization
The scientists behind the new Irish study were inspired by previous studies where it was seen that lack of vitamin D increases the risk of various diseases that often require hospitalization. The aim of their research was to evaluate how blood levels of vitamin D affected hospital admission rates and duration in older Irish citizens living on their own.
According to the researchers, this is the first study to look at the relation between lack of vitamin D and hospitalization in connection with a number of specific diseases in a large group of seniors.
The scientist analyzed 3,093 aged 60 years and older that were recruited from the large TUDA study (Trinity-Ulster, Department of Agriculture) via St. James’ Hospital in Dublin. The study was designed to be a part of a database of three population studies that include cognitive skills, bone health, and hypertension. In the course of the study, 1,577 (50.9%) of the participants were hospitalized.
The reported results showed a direct link between lack of vitamin D, hospitalization, and the duration of the hospitalization. Patients with blood levels of vitamin D below 50 nmol/L were more likely to be admitted to a hospital and to spend more time there, even when adjusting for confounding factors
According to the scientists, lack of vitamin D as an independent factor increases the risk of being hospitalized and for longer time. Therefore, it is important to make sure to increase vitamin D levels in older vitamin D-deficient people, preferably to levels higher than 50 nmol/L.
Because vitamin D is so vital for our bones and general health, the scientists say that we need to conduct far more studies in order to pinpoint the optimal vitamin D status for seniors.
Vitamin D supplements
Our actual need for vitamin D is often a lot higher than the official recommendations, at least if the goal is to optimize our blood levels of the nutrient. It depends on a number of different factors such as diet, genes, sun exposure, age, skin type, BMI, use of cholesterol-lowering medicine, and having chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes etc. You can buy high-dosed vitamin D supplements that contain between 20-80 micrograms of vitamin D in each capsule.
EU’s Scientific Committee on Food has set an upper safe vitamin D intake level of 100 micrograms per day for adults.
Vitamin D is lipid-soluble. The best way to ingest it in supplement form is in capsules where the vitamin D is dissolved in oil
Avril Beirne et al. Vitamin D and Hospital Admission in Older adults: A prospective Association. Nutrients. 2021
Nikki Hancocks. Vitamin D deficiency increases hospitalization risk in older population. Nutraingredients.com 2021
Niamh Aspell et al. Vitamin D deficiency is Associated With Impaired Muscle Strength and Physical Performance in Community-Dwelling Older Adults: Findings From The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Clinical Interventions in Aging. 2019
Adrian R Martineau et al. Vitamin D for the management of asthma. Cochrane Library 2016
Yunus Colak, Børge G Nordestgaard, Shoaib Afzal. Low vitamin D and risk of bacterial pneumonias: Mendelian randomisation studies in two population-based cohorts. BMJ 2020 Oct 27
Liji Thomas. Vitamin D deficiency associated with higher risk of COVID-19 hospitalization. News Medical Life Sciences. Jan 21, 2021
Majid Shojaei et al. The Correlation between Serum Level of Vitamin D Outcome of Sepsis Patients; a Cross-sectional Study. Archives of Academic Emergency Medicine 2019
Palle Toft og Thomas Strøm. Sepsis, den tredjehyppigste dødsårsag, registreres ikke i Danmark. Ugeskrift for Læger 2018
Nina Buchtele et al. Prevalence and Impact of Vitamin D Deficiency in Critically Ill Cancer Patients Admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. Nutrients 2021
Carsten Carlberg, Alberto Munoz. An update on vitamin D signaling and cancer. Seminars in Cancer Biology. 2020
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