Too Many Elderly Lacking in Vitamin D
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Endocrinologist Jeffrey Mechanick, MD, who also studies vitamin D deficiency, agrees that older patients may need more than 800 IU of supplemental vitamin D each day, but he warned that no one should take high doses of the vitamin unless they first clear it with their doctor.
"Routinely taking more than 800 IU without consulting a doctor could be very dangerous, especially if a person is also self-medicating with calcium supplementation," Mechanick says. "That could lead to hypercalcemia, or excessively high levels of calcium in the blood, which could be life threatening."
Mechanick, who is an associate clinical professor of medicine at New York's Mount Sinai School of Medicine, says the hypothesis that treating vitamin D deficiencies may help bedridden or wheelchair-bound elderly people become more mobile is intriguing, but needs much more study.
Last year Garg and colleagues reported the cases of five wheelchair-bound patients in Buffalo, N.Y. -- three of whom were elderly -- who were suffering from severe muscle weakness caused by a lack of vitamin D. When the five patients were treated with megadoses of the vitamin, all were able to walk again. It was this study, Garg says, that led him to examine vitamin D deficiencies in the elderly.
"You can't draw conclusions from anecdotal data, which is what this study was," Mechanick says. "These findings indicate that vitamin D is a magic bullet, and that is not very likely. One might hypothesize, from what we do know, that vitamin D could make a patient stronger. But before we jump to conclusions we need to study this further."