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New study suggests healthy vitamin D status and high protein intake improve muscle mass among older adults with sarcopenia

Posted on: February 15, 2017   by  Missy Sturges & John Canell, MD


Sarcopenia is characterized by a gradual loss of muscle mass and strength as a natural part of aging. This progressive decline typically begins around the age of 50, with a 1-2% decrease in muscle mass per year.

Individuals with sarcopenia are at an increased risk for impaired recovery from chronic illness and experience an increased rate of hospital stays and nursing home admissions. Although several factors contribute to the development of sarcopenia, inadequate intake of high quality protein and low vitamin D status are important modifiable risk factors.

Research suggests whey protein (milk based protein) is beneficial for enhancing muscle-protein synthesis (MPS) among older adults.  MPS is a process responsible for maintaining and gaining muscle mass. Furthermore, research has shown that leucine, an essential amino acid, may further stimulate MPS when taken alongside a high quality protein source.

Vitamin D plays a crucial role in improving muscle strength. Like whey protein, vitamin D has been shown to increase the rate of MPS. Additionally, research has found that vitamin D increases fast-twitch muscle fiber size and decreases muscle inflammation. One study found that supplementing obese older individuals with a combination of whey protein and vitamin D decreased the risk of developing sarcopenia during intentional weight loss.

Over the years, researchers have attempted to provide nutritional interventions for the treatment of sarcopenia, including the use of a combination of vitamin D and high quality protein. However, the results were conflicting. This may be due to variability of vitamin D dosing, quality of protein provided and composition of the diets used in the interventions. As a result, researchers recently hypothesized that baseline nutritional status may influence the success of vitamin D and protein interventions for the treatment of sarcopenia.

The researchers conducted a study utilizing the data from the PROVIDE study, a randomized controlled double blind trial that compared the effects of a vitamin D (800 IU) and leucine-enriched whey protein drink to a placebo among 380 older adults with sarcopenia. This study found that those who received the enriched drink over the 13 week duration of the study gained more appendicular muscle mass and improved leg function compared to the controls.

The researchers of the new study evaluated the baseline serum 25(OH)D levels and dietary protein intake of the participants of the PROVIDE study.

Here is what they discovered:

  • Those with baseline 25(OH)D levels < 20 ng/ml experienced decreased muscle mass (p = 0.001), strength (p < 0.001) and function (p = 0.002) compared to those with levels > 20 ng/ml.
  • Individuals with baseline 25(OH)D levels > 20 ng/ml were more likely to be living independently (p < 0.001), less likely to experience depression (p = 0.005) and more likely to have improved nutritional status (p < 0.001).
  • Participants who consumed > 1g/kg/day of protein had a lower average weight, BMI, muscle mass and fat mass at baseline compared to those with lower protein intake (p < 0.001).
  • Those who had a baseline 25(OH)D status > 20ng/ml and consumed >1 g/kg/day of whey protein experienced a greater improvement in appendicular muscle mass and skeletal muscle mass in response to the intervention, independent of other factors (p < 0.01).
  • Neither 25(OH)D status nor protein intake at baseline impacted the outcome of lower extremity function.

The researchers concluded,

“Sarcopenic participants may need serum 25(OH)D concentrations exceeding 50 nmol/L and a fairly high dietary protein intake (> 1 g/kg body weight/day) in order to experience meaningful muscle mass gain from a vitamin D and protein supplement in long term interventions.”

Whether your goal is to maintain optimal athletic performance, or treat muscle loss due to aging or health complications, research suggests that a combination of whey protein, leucine and vitamin D supplementation are crucial nutritional components to meeting your needs. Eidogen-Sertanty, a respected nutraceutical company dedicated to promoting health and wellness, offers a combined supplement containing whey protein, leucine and 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 at an affordable price.

The Vitamin D Council is highly selective when recommending any products to our viewers. In fact, we only do so when we believe this will directly benefit the health and wellness of the public. It is important not to exceed 10,000 IU daily and to test your vitamin D levels within 2-3 months after making any changes to your supplement routine to ensure you are maintaining healthy vitamin D levels.


Sturges, M. & Cannell, JJ. New study suggests vitamin D status and protein intake improve muscle mass among older adults with sarcopenia. The Vitamin D Council Blog & Newsletter, 2/2/2017.


Verlann, S. et al. Sufficient levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D and protein intake required to increase muscle mass in sarcopenic older adults – The PROVIDE study. Clinical Nutrition, 2017

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