Vitamin D and bone health in the elderly

A. M. Parfitt, J. C. Gallagher, R. P. Heaney, C. C. Johnston, R. Neer, G. D. Whedon

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

428 Scopus citations


The state of vitamin D nutrition depends on synthesis in the skin under the influence of sunlight as well as on dietary intake. In European countries that do not fortify milk with vitamin D, reduced sun exposure is the major factor leading to a fall in body stores of vitamin D with age and to a high frequency of hypovitaminosis D in the elderly sick. In the US, because vitamin D is added to milk and the use of vitamin D supplements is more common, the dietary intake of vitamin D is relatively more important than in Europe, and the total vitamin D intake and body stores of vitamin D are generally higher. Nevertheless, body stores of vitamin D probably fall with age in the US as they do in Europe, and it is likely that some sick elderly persons in the US, especially among those confined to institutions, become vitamin D deficient. For several reasons, the vitamin D requirement increases with age, and a total supply of 15 to 20 μg/day (600 to 800 IU) from all sources is recommended. Special attention should be paid to persons most likely to need supplementation, such as the housebound, persons with malabsorption, and persons with interruption of the enterohepatic circulation. Osteomalacia, the bone disease produced by severe vitamin D deficiency is less common in the US than in Europe, but subclinical vitamin D deficiency may contribute to the pathogenesis of hip fractures, both through increased liability to fall and through PTH-mediated bone loss. The extent to which vitamin D deficiency contributes to hip fractures in the US is unknown, and is an important area for future research. Excess intake of vitamin D or of its metabolites may result in hypercalcemia and extra-osseous calcification, particularly in arterial walls and in the kidney, leading to chronic renal failure. The dose of vitamin D that causes significant hypercalcemia is highly variable between individuals but is rarely less than 1000 μg/day. Smaller doses can cause hypercalciuria and nephrolithiasis and possibly impaired renal function. Vitamin D administration may raise plasma cholesterol but there is no convincing evidence that the risk of myocardial infarction is increased. The recommended total supply for the elderly of 20 μg/day is most unlikely to be harmful, except in patients with sarcoidosis or renal calculi.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1014-1031
Number of pages18
JournalUnknown Journal
Issue number5 Suppl.
StatePublished - 1982
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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