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Low vitamin D status associated with increased mortality in nursing homes

Posted on: February 24, 2012   by  John Cannell, MD


“In view of our findings and the existing literature of adverse effects of vitamin D deficiency, there exists now an urgent need for effective strategies to improve vitamin D status in older institutionalized patients.”

These are not my words, but I would add a more urgent need exists for non-institutionalized people, especially young people.

The quote above are the words of Dr. Sefan Pitz and nine colleagues from Austria and Germany who studied 95 nursing homes in Austria, obtaining vitamin D levels on 961 participants. Their average age was 83 and their average vitamin D level was a remarkable 7 ng/ml, although 7% had levels above 20 ng/ml. They drew the blood in 2002, so the authors could go back through the charts and see who later died and compare that to their 2002 vitamin D levels.

Pilz S, Dobnig H, Tomaschitz A, Kienreich K, Meinitzer A, Friedl C, Wagner D, Piswanger-Sölkner C, März W, Fahrleitner-Pammer A.  Low 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Is Associated with Increased Mortality in Female Nursing Home Residents. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2012 Feb 8.

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4 Responses to Low vitamin D status associated with increased mortality in nursing homes

  1. Ian

    What do we know about SNPs in and alleles of vit D dependant genes? Is the behaviour/output of these alleles more affected than the “normal” gene when vitamin D is chronically low? What I am wondering is, could a person with “perfect” genes live a long time with very low levels of vitamin D. And the corollary: would a person with many SNPs or alleles have fewer problems and age well with high levels of vitamin D?

  2. pshenofsky

    Although their are many of the fragile elderly who are frequent fliers, I am always glad to the the healthy old folks who come to the ED for minor complaints, Many continue to live in their own homes or “elder villages” and function quite well. Get over that decrepit mindset. I think you and I may be as they are, if you are like me with insatiable interests, and not enough time to explore them. I am also cutting the carbs and have quit the low fat diet regime of the current health administration. Continue to work in a large emergency room at 64.
    Pat Shenofsky RN, CEN

  3. glen2240

    I get about 3,000 IU/day of D3 and I hope to be able to continue that until that day that comes unannounced (it may be anticipated but the moment itself comes when the inner spirit lets go).
    I think the article is right on but I want to comment to the response above from pshenofsky concerning her “cutting the carbs”. This is one the most ridiculous diet fads (a lot like the old “Calories don’t count.” The body’s (particularly the brain’s) primary source of energy is from glucose (stored in the body as a pound or two of glycogen). If one limits the carbs then the body has to use protein to convert to glucose so, if that be the diet, one needs a lot of exercise in order to spare the muscles and hope the other soft tissues makes out OK.
    The only true path to curing obesity (or maintaining weight) is the same old ‘portion control’ and exercise with a f air knowledge of Caloric values.

  4. John

    I also have wondered about how some older people have virtually zero sun exposure, yet live to a ripe old age; 100 in the case of my former farmer and rancher neighbor who got me thinking about this. He spent his life outside prior to eighty, then quit riding his horse and taking care of 300 head of cattle by himself(!) at his wife’s insistence. He mowed his own lawn and did things like electrify his pecan tree with fence wire to fight the squirrels until 92 or so, then lived inside with extraordinary good health. His indoor siblings enjoyed neither his good health nor longevity. I began to gather anecdotal data and came to the conclusion that long term HISTORY of sun exposure is the determining factor. Those who had lots of sun exposure all along live long disease free lives. I worked on formulating something that would explain that and decided that good Vitamin D levels might keep organs and genes in perfect condition, every organ maintained far from D shortage conditions, every mutated gene repaired, every precancerous cell zapped. We already know that vitamin d performs these functions. At the onset of zero sun exposure their bodies would be in perfect shape. When they stop getting sun exposure they would not be immune to the deterioration that goes on in the vitamin d deficient. That deterioration would set in and progress at the same rate as in everyone else… but they would be so far behind! The vitamin d deficient time span just doesn’t go on long enough for the damage to accumulate to a lethal level before they reach an advanced age where dying is considered normal, but where vitamin d shortage might still be the real cause! Personally, I’d guess that my addiction to water skiing from age 14 to 29 is what kept me from getting cancer in my forties when I began scrupulously following the advice of dermatologists. Dr Cannell probably saved my life by bringing that deadly 15-year phase to a halt. My parents scoffed at sunscreen, my mother was a true sun worshiper, my father mowed his own yard, they camped at the beach, and both conscientiously sat outside in the sun for 30 minutes a day the last thirty years. They had lots of skin damage repaired, but my mother was vigorously healthy when she died from Alzheimer’s at 90, and my father’s still going at 93, with nothing lethal wrong unless being deaf will kill you. A friend’s mother lived on a farm until 75. She’s had no sun for ten years, is 85 or so, she’s never sick, and she SMOKES. History explains it.

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