November 17, 2005

Older? Vitamin D is Key

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Older Americans need more vitamin D to help strengthen bones than what current guidelines recommend, a U.S. medical group said on Thursday.

Men and women age 50 and older should take about 800 to 1,000 international units of vitamin D each day -- more than the 400 to 600 daily units the Institute of Medicine recommends, the American Medical Women's Association said.

"The recommendations we provided are designed as a guide for primary care physicians and specialists and are sufficient for most patients," said Dr. Kimberly Templeton, a representative of the group and associate professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Kansas Medical Center. She added some patients may need different amounts.

Sunscreen, protective clothing and time spent indoors already keep most older Americans from getting enough vitamin D, which comes from sunlight's ultraviolet-B rays, the group said.

Vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorus, can also be found in certain foods, such as fatty fish or fortified milk and juice. Dietary supplements may be the best way for older Americans to get more of it, the doctors recommended.

While calcium has traditionally been considered the key to bone strength, several recent studies have shown vitamin D intake and exercise are not less important than calcium in preventing the bone degenerating disease osteoporosis.

Other recent data suggest vitamin D may prevent some cancers and multiple sclerosis, according to the National Institutes of Health.

People should consult their doctors to decide if they are getting enough of the vitamin and, if not, what the right amount for them would be, the women's medical group added.

The doctors came up with their recommendations after a recent meeting, paid for by Merck & Co Inc., which makes the osteoporosis drug Fosamax.