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The ABCs of Vitamin D deficiency

National Public Radio

Vitamin D might seem like just another chemical on the long list of vitamins on the side of a multi-vitamin bottle. However, as University at Buffalo research suggests, it is a key chemical for living a long life.
The research involves mice who received unusually low levels of vitamin D. The results showed serious health results, including shorter strides, by the mice.

"We reduced the level of vitamin D supplementation and actually gave these mice only about 1/8 of what is typically in their diet," said Dr. Bruce Troen, professor and chief of the Division of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine for the Department of Medicine at the Jacobs School of Medicine, "and we found out that from the (human) ages of about six months to 18 months - so that's a year's period of time in a mouse - that had a significant impact on their physical performance."

Troen has avariety of titles, including director of the UB Center for Successful Aging. He is working with Research Assistant Professor of Medicine Kenneth Saldeen on this study.

Troen has studied vitamin D for many years and says low levels carry a range of bad effects.

Credit National Public Radio

"Even though most of us think about vitamin D along with bones, it has impacts on our muscular function," Troen said. "It also affects our metabolism and how our bodies respond to sugar and manage sugar levels. It has correlations with the incidence of autoimmune illnesses and a range of different cancers."

As a geriatrician, Troen sees a direct connection between low levels of vitamin D and identifiable problems in senior citizens.

"In frail, vulnerable older adults, particularly those who might be in an institutional setting such as in a nursing home, that low vitamin D levels are correlated wtih an increased number of falls," he said, "and if you fall and if your bones are not as strong, which is also correlated with low vitamin D levels, you are at a higher risk for fracture."

He says the effects of low vitamin D on the research mice only lasted for a year, but the doctor says the bad effects could show up over decades in a human being. That is why he recommends most people take supplements of the vitamin, although there are foods that can provide high levels of vitamin D.

Given the risk of skin cancer, the researcher does not think using lots of sun to generate the vitamin is a good idea.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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