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Vitamin D and muscle function in the elderly: is there a connection?

Posted on: March 21, 2018   by  Missy Sturges & John Canell, MD


The Vitamin D Council team connects with people throughout various phases of their vitamin D journey on a daily basis. Here is an example of an all-too-common scenario:

We receive a call from an elderly individual who is trying to lose weight and exercise but struggles with fatigue, muscle weakness, and aches and pains. For our regular readers, do these symptoms sound familiar?

As our conversation progresses, we discuss the symptoms and risk factors of vitamin D deficiency and relevant research on the topic. Typically, it isn’t long before the connection to vitamin D becomes clear and the individual is empowered obtain a vitamin D blood level and thus take action.

As an extension of this scenario, let’s talk about a few common side effects of aging: weight gain, muscle loss (sarcopenia) and vitamin D deficiency.

Our muscles play a crucial role in keeping elderly individuals mobile by reducing the risk of falls and fractures and supporting their ability to carry out important activities of daily living. However, as we age, some muscle loss naturally occurs. This often results in decreased physical activity, weaker bones, reduced muscle mass and sometimes weight gain.

To further compound this relationship, both overweight (25 and 29.9 kg/m2) and elderly individuals are at an increased risk for vitamin D deficiency. This knowledge recently prompted researchers to evaluate whether a combination of vitamin D status and body weight may impact muscle function in postmenopausal women.

A total of 368 women who were receiving care at an outpatient clinic for osteoporosis management were included in the analysis. They followed the participants over a period of 36 months.

The women were separated into four groups based on weight and vitamin D status:

  1. Group one: Normal weight with low vitamin D status
  2. Group two: Overweight with normal vitamin D levels
  3. Group three: Overweight with low vitamin D status
  4. Group four: Normal weight with normal vitamin D levels served as a control.

The researchers measured the participants hand grip strength and physical performance, comparing participants lean muscle mass of their limbs to their BMI.

Here is what they found:

  • The researcher included a total of 95 women in group one, 90 in group two, 96 in group three and 87 in group four.
  • Those in group three experienced a highly elevated risk of reduced muscle mass (OR 5.70; p < 0.001); strength (OR 12.05; p < 0.001) and performance (OR 5.84; p < 0.001), compared to controls.
  • Group one experienced an increased risk of reduced muscle strength (OR 7.30; p < 0.001) and physical performance (OR 3.16; p < 0.001) compared to group four.

The researchers concluded,

“According to our findings, both hypovitaminosis D and overweight should be investigated in postmenopausal women because of their negative effects on skeletal muscle mass and function.”

These findings add to the mounting evidence regarding vitamin D’s role in supporting muscle strength and physical performance among the elderly.

Are your vitamin D needs being met?

There are two primary ways you can meet your vitamin D requirements: brief, daily, full-body sun exposure when your shadow is shorter than you are tall, or supplementing with 5,000-10,000 IU (125 – 250 mcg) vitamin D3/day. If you receive regular sun exposure, the only time you need a supplement is on the days you are unable to sunbathe. It’s important to note that a common mistake is to stop supplementing once ideal 25(OH)D levels are obtained. However, vitamin D is like thyroid in that the dose that enabled you to reach ideal ranges is the dose needed to maintain those levels.

To learn more about the factors that affect vitamin D production from the sun, click here. If natural vitamin D production through sun exposure isn’t an option, supplementing with vitamin D is key. We recommend BioTech Pharmacal’s vitamin D due to their strict quality assurance process, affordability and contribution to vitamin D research. Their D3Plus is, in our opinion, is their best vitamin D product, as it contains cofactors needed to optimize vitamin D’s action in the body..

The only way to ensure your levels are within the healthy range (40-80 ng/ml) is to have your vitamin D levels tested. This can be accomplished through your doctor’s office or by purchasing a Vitamin D Council in-home test kit.

Please feel free to reach out to us to share your vitamin D journey, and join our community by participating in our Q&A forum. Your support and participation is greatly appreciated by us all at the Vitamin D Council!


Sturges, M and Cannell JJ. Vitamin D, muscle function and aging: is there a connection? The Vitamin D Council Blog & Newsletter, March 13, 2018.


Gimigliano, F. et al. The combination of vitamin D deficiency and overweight affects muscle mass and function in older post-menopausal women, Aging Clinical and Experimental Research, 2018.

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