High doses of vitamin D may increase seniors’ risk of falls, rather than reduce it, according to a new study.

Preliminary studies suggested vitamin D may increase muscle strength and improve balance, so Johns Hopkins researchers investigated whether high doses of vitamin D might reduce the risk of falls in people aged 70 and older.

But the investigators found that large doses of vitamin D supplements were no better at preventing falls in this age group than a low dose.

“There’s no benefit of higher doses but several signals of potential harm,” study author Dr. Lawrence Appel said in a Hopkins news release.

“A lot of people think if a little bit is helpful, a lot will be better. But for some vitamins, high-dose supplements pose more risks than benefits. There’s a real possibility that higher doses of vitamin D increase the risk and severity of falls,” said Appel, a professor of medicine with joint appointments in epidemiology, international health and nursing.

Taking 1,000 or more international units per day, or IU/day, equivalent to 25 micrograms/day of vitamin D, was no better than 200 IU/day at preventing falls, according to the study, which was funded by the U.S. National Institute on Aging.

The results were published this week in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

The researchers also found that vitamin D supplement doses of 2,000 and 4,000 IU/day seemed to increase the risk and severity of falls compared with 1,000 IU/day, a relatively common dose for a pure vitamin D supplement.

Another finding was that serious falls and falls that required hospitalization occurred more often in older people who took 1,000 or more IU/day than in those who took 200 IU/day — about half the typical dose found in multivitamins.

Older folks should talk with their doctors about their fall risk and vitamin D levels in order to determine whether or not to continue taking vitamin D supplements, Appel recommended.

More information

The Harvard School of Public Health has more on vitamin D and health.

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