A recent study by the University of Missouri found that people who suffer traumatic bone fractures often have low levels of vitamin D. This vitamin is used by the body to repair bone damage; low levels can put a person at higher risk for improper healing of bone fractures.
Researchers checked vitamin D levels in about 900 adults who had suffered traumatic bone fractures in incidents such as falls and automobile accidents. Seventy-nine percent of men and 76 percent of women were found to have lower-than-recommended levels of the vitamin, while 40 percent of the women and 38 percent of the men had “severely low” levels.
Brett Crist, associate professor of orthopedic surgery at U of MO, who presented the study, said that low or deficient vitamin D is common in bone fractures in younger, as well as older patients. Fifty-five percent of patients between 18 and 25 years old were found to have “low or severely low” vitamin D levels.
As a result of the findings, which were presented at several doctors’ conferences, study researchers have begun prescribing vitamin D supplements for almost all patients with broken bones; the supplements are intended to lessen the risk of healing problems.
Dr. Crist added that more research is needed to determine whether vitamin D supplements can reduce the risk of bones healing improperly, but vitamin D is known to be required, to repair bone damage.
There is low risk of adverse results for most people taking vitamin D supplements; however, high vitamin D levels can be dangerous for people with some medical conditions, including kidney disease and cancer. Dr. Crist recommended that people consult with their doctor before taking D supplements.
In a study published earlier this year in the journal Science Translational Medicine, vitamin D deficiency was found to increase the risk of a bone being fractured and of the fracture spreading, by up to 31 percent.
In that study, part of which was done posthumously in patients in Germany, bone samples from 30 subjects between 57 and 60 years of age were analyzed for contents. The people studied had all been healthy and had died of unnatural or accidental causes.
Researchers used state-of-the-art technology to measure bone quality on the smallest of scales, measuring nanometers to micrometers. The scientists found that patients who were deficient in vitamin D had less mineralization on the surface of the bones. However, underneath the surface, their bones were actually more heavily mineralized; these are structural characteristics of older and more brittle bones.
In adults, vitamin D deficiency is known to cause osteomalacia, which is a softening of the bones that’s linked to defective mineralization; this results in bone pain, muscle weakness, and an increased risk of bone deformities and fractures. Treatments with vitamin D and calcium supplements have proven effective, even with only small increases in bone mineral density.
What researchers concluded is that vitamin D deficiency isn’t just linked to a loss of bone density, but that it also affects bone quality overall, altering the way that bone-building cells (osteoblasts and osteoclasts) work.
With vitamin D deficiency, cells that normally pattern themselves after the bone tissue they’re replacing can’t get through the surface layer. The bone underneath continues to age and its mineral content becomes greater, even as mineral content for the bone as a whole declines. This type of damage from vitamin D deficiency can occur at any age and is not limited to older people.
Vitamin D is essential for healthy bone growth and maintenance, helping the body to absorb calcium, the mineral that gives bones their hardness and strength. Vitamin D also helps regulate phosphorus levels in our blood; together with calcium, phosphorus helps to strengthen and provide structure for bones and teeth. (Recent research also indicates that vitamin D may be important in preventing cancer, high blood pressure, and some autoimmune disorders.)
Vitamin D and calcium deficiencies can cause thin, brittle bones — a condition known as rickets in children and osteoporosis in adults. The National Institutes of Health estimate that some 40 million Americans have either osteoporosis or low bone mass. This condition poses a greater risk of bone fracture, especially as we age. On a global level, the International Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that one in three women and one in five men over the age of 50 will suffer osteoporotic bone fractures in their lifetimes.
But vitamin D deficiency can be reversed, and as you boost your D levels, the quality of your bones will improve, being that bones are continually undergoing a process of regeneration, using the new materials that we put in our bodies. The authors of the German study recommended that people who are vitamin D-deficient compensate by eating a diet rich in vitamin D foods. (A blood test can determine what your vitamin D levels are and whether there’s a deficiency.)
The following are top vitamin D foods:
- Fatty fish, including salmon, tuna, swordfish, sardines, sole, and flounder
- Fortified dairy products (among cheeses, ricotta is particularly rich in D)
- Egg yolks
- Beef liver
- Mushrooms (the large-dome kind, such as shiitake and portobello, are especially rich in D)
Another natural source of D vitamin is sunshine, as our skin produces it when exposed to the Sun. As little as 10 to 20 minutes of Sun exposure a day (without sunscreen and with plenty of uncovered skin) is believed to be enough to supply our daily requirements of this important nutrient.
By Jamell Andrews