Vitamin D has long
been recommended for older women as a way of combating the reduction in muscle
mass that accompanies aging.
Now, a new study done
in Brazil offers evidence that taking vitamin D can significantly increase muscle
strength and reduce the loss of muscle mass in women more than a decade after
The study results
will be presented at the annual meeting of The
North American Menopause Society (NAMS),
which opens today in Las Vegas.
The researchers found
at the end of the nine-month, double-blind study that the women who received
the vitamin supplements showed an increase of more than 25 percent in muscle
Those in the control
group, who received a placebo, lost an average of 6.8 percent of muscle mass.
The women in that group were also nearly twice as likely to fall.
If the results hold
up, it means in effect that even women who are looking at menopause in the rearview
mirror can still benefit from taking vitamin D.
“The aim of our study
was to prove the preventive effect of the use of vitamin D for musculoskeletal
complications in younger postmenopausal women,” Dr. Luciana Cangussu told
She is one of the
lead authors of the study from the Botucatu Medical School at Sao Paulo State
“In fact, this result
was part of our hypothesis, but of course this amount of strength gain was
above our expectations,” she added.
Association Encouraged by Study
The study results
were welcomed by NAMS as well.
According to Dr. Wulf
H. Utian, Ph.D. and executive director of NAMS, “This very interesting study
attempted to determine whether vitamin D administration to women with a history
of falls after menopause had a muscle-sparing and strengthening effect.
“The value of this
would be fewer falls through enhancement of muscle strength,” he explained to
Healthline. “This is an extremely important question because falls in older
women are associated with bone fractures and these in turn carry a higher
likelihood of earlier death.”
Utian said the
findings merit further research.
study is unlikely to decide the debate over vitamin D, it provides further
evidence to support the use of vitamin D supplements by postmenopausal women in
an effort to reduce frailty and an increased risk of falling,” Utian said in a
In their study, the
researchers measured muscle mass by total-body DXA (dual-energy X-ray
absorptiometry) and muscle strength by hand grip and chair-raising test.
The mean age in the
test group was 58.8 years; in the placebo group, it was 59.3 years.
“We concluded that the supplementation of vitamin
D alone provided significant protection against the occurrence of sarcopenia,
which is a degenerative loss of skeletal muscle,” Cangussu stated in a press
Why Vitamin D Is Important
Hypovitaminosis D is
common in postmenopausal women worldwide. It creates muscle weakness and a
greater likelihood of falls.
executive director of American Bone Health, notes the importance of vitamin D
for bone density.
demonstrated that vitamin D also helps with absorption of calcium, which is
important for bone health,” she said in an interview.
stresses exercise to improve strength and balance.
Still, older people’s
bodies do not process vitamin D as efficiently as younger ones, she said.
“So many people are
insufficient or deficient” when it comes to vitamin D, Cody said. She urged
women to talk to their doctors and get a blood test to test for vitamin D
Her thoughts are
echoed by Sherri R. Betz, who chairs the bone health special interest group of
the Academy of Geriatric Physical Therapy. She is also the owner of TheraPilates
Physical Therapy Clinic in Santa Cruz, California.
She explained that
the body has two types of muscle fibers: slow and fast.
“Slow fibers are in
the deep muscle. They are what hold us upright all day,” she said.
You need fast fibers
when the body needs to react quickly. Vitamin D binds to those fast fibers.
That cuts down on falls.
“To prevent a fall,
you need to react quickly,” Betz said in an interview.
The new study’s
conclusions will likely translate into even stronger recommendations for
“Our group is
concerned about exercising to add strength and to prevent falls, and vitamin D
has been touted for years as great for preventing falls,” she said.