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Vitamin D in high doses prevents bone fractures, study finds

An international study suggests vitamin D supplements provide "efficient intervention for a costly injury that affects thousands of older adults."

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Elderly people sit in the sun in Hamburg. (JOERN POLLEX/AFP/Getty Images)

Taking vitamin D regularly to protect against bone fractures has found added support in a new international study.

Researchers from Europe and the US who studied more than 31,000 people 65 or older taking 800 international units (IU) of Vitamin D a day found that those taking the supplement had fewer hip and other bone fractures.

Their findings were published in the latest New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

Previous studies have not agreed on the strategy of taking vitamin D supplements to prevent bone fracture, CBC News wrote.

However, the results of the latest study led co-author Bess Dawson-Hughes, MD, director of the Bone Metabolism Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, to say:

"Vitamin D supplementation is an efficient intervention for a costly injury that affects thousands of older adults each year."

High-dose vitamin D supplementation "was somewhat favorable" in preventing fractures, the study concluded, according to CBC.

Taking 800 IU or more daily decreased the risk of hip fracture by 30 percent and the risk of other bone fractures by 14 percent.

However, taking less than about 800 IU daily had no effect on bone-fracture risk.

"A 30 percent reduction in hip fracture with an inexpensive and safe intervention such as vitamin D has enormous public health implications,” Health magazine quoted lead author Heike Bischoff-Ferrari, M.D., director of the Center on Aging and Mobility at the University of Zurich, in Switzerland as saying.

The researchers projected that by 2050, the worldwide incidence of hip fractures was expected to increase by 240 percent among women and 310 percent among men.

Seventy-five percent of fractures occurred in people age 65 and older, they noted.

Dawson-Hughes put it in financial terms, saying that while vitamin D supplements cost pennies a day, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons' most-recent estimated of the cost of treating a hip fracture to be $26,912. 

She also commented on the human impact of fractures, particularly in the elderly:

"The average recovery is long and painful and deeply impacts quality of life. After a fracture, older patients may only regain partial mobility, resulting in a loss of independence that is personally demoralizing and that can place added stress on family members and caregivers."

Naturally occurring vitamin D, ABC News wrote, is manufactured by the body's exposure to sunlight.

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