(source: Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology- FASEB)
According to legend, it was The Fountain of Youth that the famed Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon was seeking when he landed on the Floridian coast in 1513. It has long been said that he who drinks from the Fountain will have his youth restored. Without a doubt, the quest for eternal youth is as ancient as any pursuit. However, although we are now living longer than ever, there is now growing concern that quantity of years is not nearly as important as quality of those years.
Indeed, as we experience the many joys of living longer, we also must deal with myriad consequences accompanying this aging trend. For instance, osteoporosis, arthritis, and other serious and often painful bone and joint diseases are much more common as we get older. And, not surprisingly, seniors often struggle daily with what was once the simple task of getting around.
Hence, the obvious question in today’s society concerning our longevity is “What choices can we make to help ease these inconveniences of aging?”
One area of particular interest is the role that diet plays in keeping bones and muscles strong from infancy to old age. For instance, a limited number of studies point to the possibility that optimal intake of vitamin D (the “sunshine” vitamin) might help keep our muscles strong and preserve physical function.
To help understand this diet-health association, Dr. Denise Houston and her collaborators from the Sticht Center on Aging at Wake Forest University studied the relationship between vitamin D status and physical function in a group of relatively healthy seniors living in Memphis, TN and Pittsburgh, PA.
Houston and her team studied 2788 seniors (mean age: ~75 years) for 4 years. At the beginning of the study, they assessed vitamin D status by analyzing each person’s blood for 25-hydroxyvitamin D, a precursor for activated vitamin D. At baseline and then 2 and 4 years later, the research team then determined whether circulating 25-hydroxyvitamin D was related to the participants’ physical function.
Specifically, they looked at how quickly each participant could walk a short distance (6 meters) and rise from a chair five times as well as maintain his or her balance in progressively more challenging positions. Each participant was also put through a battery of tests assessing endurance and strength.
When the results were tabulated, participants with the highest levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D had better physical function.
And, although physical function declined over the course of the study, it remained significantly higher among those with the highest vitamin D levels at the beginning of the study compared to those with the lowest vitamin D levels.
The scientists were not surprised to learn that, in general, vitamin D consumption was very low in this group of otherwise healthy seniors. In fact, more than 90% of them consumed less vitamin D than currently recommended.
The good news: higher circulating 25-hydroxyvitamin D is related to better physical function in seniors.
Houston points out: “Current dietary recommendations are based primarily on vitamin D’s effects on bone health. It is possible that higher amounts of vitamin D are needed for the preservation of muscle strength and physical function as well as other health conditions.”
Will vitamin D research lead us to The Fountain of Youth? Probably not. But paying attention to how much vitamin D we get is likely important at every age and will help enhance the “quality” component of life as we enter our senior years.
Dr. Jonny comments: I believe this study just adds to the voluminous research indicating a need for much greater vitamin D intake than is now recommended. We’ve seen vitamin D associated with bone strength, improved mood, physical performance, even reduced rates of certain cancers. I personally take 6,000 IUs on a daily basis. I think vitamin D is one of a very few supplements that virtually everyone could benefit from.
Best of all, it’s cheap and easy to take, either in pill form or in the new liquid emulsion formula in which a single drop gives you a 2,000 IU dose. The drops mix perfectly into any drink you can imagine, and has absolutely no taste.