High-risk older women, especially those from sunny climates, and especially during the winter, may benefit from a reduced risk of falls if they take Vitamin D2 supplements, according to an article in Archives of Internal Medicine (JAMA/Archives), January 14th edition.

The researchers explain "Approximately one-third of women older than 65 years fall each year, and 6% sustain a fracture as a result of the fall. In addition, fear of falling is a major problem in older people."

Richard L. Prince, M.D., Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, Nedlands, Australia, and team carried out a year-long clinical trial involving 302 women aged 70-90 years - they all lived in Perth, Australia. As vitamin D is produced as a response to exposure to sunlight and the study was carried out in a sunny place, the scientists selected women whose blood vitamin D levels for below 24 nanograms per milliliter, the median for the area.

All the women in the study had a history of falls in the previous year. They were given 1,000 milligrams of calcium citrate per day. 50% of them were then randomly selected to receive either 1,000 international units of vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) while the other 50% received an identical placebo. The researchers gathered data on falls every six weeks.

During the study period 53% of the vitamin D2 women and 62.9% of the placebo women had at least one fall. They found that vitamin D2 therapy reduced the risk of having at least one fall by 19%, even after factoring in such variables as height.

The researchers wrote "When those who fell were grouped by the season of first fall or the number of falls they had, ergocalciferol treatment reduced the risk of having the first fall in winter and spring but not in summer and autumn, and reduced the risk of having one fall but not multiple falls."

They also wrote "It is interesting that the ergocalciferol therapy effect was confined to those who were to sustain one fall but not those destined to have more than one fall. Older people who fall frequently tend to have more risk factors for falling, including greater degrees of disability and poorer levels of physical function."

Perhaps chemically correcting vitamin D levels in the blood in these women is insufficient to prevent falls, they noted.

The authors concluded "Ergocalciferol, 1,000 international units per day, added to a high calcium intake is associated with 23 percent reduction of the risk of falling in winter/spring to the same level as in summer/autumn."

"Effects of Ergocalciferol Added to Calcium on the Risk of Falls in Elderly High-Risk Women"
Richard L. Prince; Nicole Austin; Amanda Devine; Ian M. Dick; David Bruce; Kun Zhu
Arch Intern Med. 2008;168(1):103-108
Click here to view abstract online

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