Vitamin D boosts mobility post-surgery

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Senior citizens who are not vitamin D deficient have a better chance of walking after hip fracture surgery, and vitamin D deficiency would limit mobility in older adults, according to a new study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

For the multi-site study, which included patients 65 or older in the United States and Canada, researchers examined the influence of vitamin D levels in blood serum and nutrition on mobility. The study focused on death rate or inability to walk 10 feet, or across a room, without someone's help after surgery.

The findings showed that vitamin D levels greater than 12 nanograms per milliliter or 12 parts per billion in blood serum are associated with a higher rate of walking at 30 and 60 days after hip fracture surgery. While poor nutrition is associated with reduced mobility 30 days after surgery, that factor was not statistically significant. Still, in patients with high levels of parathyroid hormone, which leads to high levels of calcium in blood, mobility was reduced if their nutritional status was poor, the researchers said.

A broken hip, among the most serious fall injuries, can be hard to recover from, with many people unable to live on their own afterward. In the United States, more than 300,000 people 65 or older are hospitalized for hip fractures annually and falling causes more than 95 percent of these type of fractures. Women fall more frequently than men, experiencing three-quarters of hip fractures, and the number of fractures is likely to rise as the population ages, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Regaining mobility after a hip fracture is important for full recovery and to reduce the risk of death. But vitamin D deficiency is associated with reduced mobility after surgery to repair a hip fracture.

Sue Shapses, PhD, RD, senior author of the study and a professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Rutgers University, suggests that older adults take 800 international units (IU), equivalent to 20 micrograms, of vitamin D daily to prevent deficiency. Vitamin D is important for bone health, and people get it through some foods, exposure to the sun and vitamin pills, she said.

Previous studies have shown that taking 800 IU of vitamin D a day can prevent falling and fractures. A 2019 study published in The Journals of Gerontology: Series A indicated that high vitamin D intake of 4,000 IU a day compared with 600 IU a day may reduce reaction time, potentially boosting the risk of falling and fractures. The recommended dietary allowance for vitamin D is 600 IU daily for people from 1 to 70 years old and 800 for people over 70.

“This matters because vitamin D deficiency and malnutrition are common disorders in elderly patients with hip fractures and often occur together since both are complications of poor nutrition,” Shapses said in a statement. “These studies suggest that too much or too little vitamin D will affect mobility and falls in the elderly.”