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It may be more important than ever for older people to get enough vitamin D in their systems, either from the sun or through nutritional supplements. According to a new study, their lives may depend on it.
Researchers at the University of Colorado Denver and Massachusetts General Hospital found that having adequate levels of vitamin D can play a vital role in reducing the risk of death in people aged 65 and older.
This study, which was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, examined the relationship between vitamin D levels and the mortality rates of elderly people. The research found that older adults who had insufficient levels of vitamin D died from heart disease at a greater rate when compared to those who had "adequate" levels of the vitamin.
Dr Adit Ginde, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine's Division of Emergency Medicine and lead author on the study, said it was likely that "more than one-third of older adults now have vitamin D levels associated with higher risks of death and few have levels associated with optimum survival."
"Given the aging population and the simplicity of increasing a person's level of vitamin D, a small improvement in death rates could have a substantial impact on public health," Ginde said.
The study examined data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, as well as analyzing the vitamin D levels in blood samples of more than 3,400 participants.
Those in the study with low levels of vitamin D were three times more likely to die from heart disease and 2.5 times more likely to die "from any cause," according to researchers.
The study suggests vitamin D testing should possibly be part of routine health checkups for men and women aged 65 and older as a way to help that segment of the population remain at optimal health.
More vitamin D may be needed
As of 2007, heart disease was still reported to be the leading cause of death in the U.S. with one person succumbing to the condition every 34 seconds.
Because of this, finding ways to help people from developing heart disease can be quite important. In an effort to reduce the number of deaths from heart disease, Ginde has taken the results from his study and suggested that the current recommended levels of vitamin D may not be enough, especially for the elderly population.
"Vitamin D has health effects that go beyond strong bones," Ginde said. "It's likely that it makes a vital contribution to good health."
Ginde's research team has applied for funding from the National Institutes of Health to perform a larger, population-based clinical trial of vitamin D supplementation in older adults to find more evidence that vitamin D can help combat heart disease in the elderly.
Reports of the health risks associated with vitamin D deficiency have given rise to more people getting lab tests to determine what their level may be. A person who has a low level of vitamin D can have an increased risk of a number of conditions that include high blood pressure, cancer, periodontal disease and seasonal affective disorder.
However, there is also the risk of having too much vitamin D in one's system, which can lead to other conditions.
The most abundant source of vitamin D is the sun, but because of some of the health risks involved in overexposure to the giant star, some health experts have suggested people use nutritional supplements to get optimal levels of the nutrient.
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