Low Vitamin D Causes Premature Bone Aging

By: Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist
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A new study demonstrates that the lack of vitamin D for bone health is more deleterious than previously thought. It has been known for decades that a lack of vitamin D inhibits proper calcification of bones and they become weaker over time. The new study shows that a lack of vitamin D speeds up the aging process of bones, as different from mineralization of bones.

“The assumption has been that the main problem with vitamin D deficiency is reduced mineralization for the creation of new bone mass, but we’ve shown that low levels of vitamin D also induces premature aging of existing bone,” says Robert Ritchie, who led the U.S. portion of this collaboration. Ritchie holds joint appointments with Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and the University of California (UC) Berkeley’s Materials Science and Engineering Department.

“Unraveling the complexity of human bone structure may provide some insight into more effective ways to prevent or treat fractures in patients with vitamin D deficiency,” says Björn Busse, of the Department of Osteology and Biomechanics at the University Medical Center in Hamburg, Germany, who led the German portion of the team.

When vitamin D is deficient, the body will remove calcium from bone to maintain normal calcium blood levels. This removal of calcium from existing bone causes softening and abnormal bone structure – as if the bone has aged significantly. 

Using advanced imaging technology the researchers studied the three-dimensional structure of bones in people who were vitamin D adequate and vitamin D deficient. The researchers found that those with low vitamin D had a depressed rate of new bone formation, as expected. They also found that the older bone was in much worse shape, with excessive abnormal mineralization and cracks that represent brittle bone.

Over half of America is vitamin D deficient, partly due to long winters and partly due to sun-paranoid public health officials. 

It is important to understand that aging bones are not just a structural issue and risk for fracture. Indeed, they are a direct predictor of mortality because they also make all your red and white blood cells on a regular basis. Paying attention to vitamin D status over the course of a lifetime is vital. Most people, unless they are getting plenty of sun, need 2,000 IU of D per day or more to maintain optimal levels of this nutrient.

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