Prescribing vitamin D does not lower fall risk in elderly

Taking vitamin D supplements has little effect on the risk of falls in older people, according to a New Zealand study.

Falls: little evidence vitamin D helps (photo: Jason Heath Lancy)

The meta-analysis by University of Auckland researchers found taking vitamin D did not reduce the risk of falls by 15% or more, the level of benefit for treatment to be seen as worthwhile.

Authors said the results showed there is not enough justification to prescribe vitamin D to help reduce falls.

However, other experts said the benefits of supplementation remained 'uncertain'.

The team analysed results from 20 vitamin D trials comprising a total of 29,535 people.

Older people have a high risk of falls, which can lead to serious complications. Vitamin D supplementation is often prescribed to maintain and improve musculoskeletal health and help prevent falls.

'Little justification' for prescribing

But previous studies and meta-analyses have yielded mixed results on the supposed benefits of supplements.

Study authors said: ‘At present, there is little justification for prescribing vitamin D supplements to prevent falls. Recent similar analyses suggest there is also little justification for prescribing vitamin D supplements to prevent cardiovascular events, cancer of fractures in unselected community-dwelling individuals, to improve bone density, or to affect a range of other non-skeletal disorders.’

They added that further trials would be unlikely to alter these results, but stressed that vitamin D should still be prescribed for adults with conditions such as osteomalacia, even though they may not receive benefits from the supplements.

Experts have said that these findings have left uncertainty in how vitamin D could be used to benefit elderly patients.

Clifford Rosen of the Maine Medical Research Institute and Christine Taylor of the National Institutes of Health in Maryland wrote in an editorial: ‘Whether a large trial is feasible in this vulnerable population remains to be established. Until then, we are left with uncertainty about the benefits of vitamin D supplementation for reduction in fall risk, particularly among vulnerable older people.’

GP has previously reported how vitamin D deficiency more than doubles the risk of developing chronic musculoskeletal pain.

The study was published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal.

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