Magazine article Science News

All Age Groups Lack Vitamin D in Blood

Magazine article Science News

All Age Groups Lack Vitamin D in Blood

Article excerpt

While calcium is a hot seller these days, its partner in physiology, vitamin D, has been largely neglected. The body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium, but since people can get the vitamin from sunlight and various foods fortified with it, most of them assume they get enough.

Unfortunately, they're often wrong -- and the consequences can affect them right down to the bone.

Previous research on vitamin D has focused primarily on elderly people, who face a serious risk from a deficiency. Now, a Massachusetts team reports that younger people often lack sufficient amounts as well. This deficiency has been linked to osteoporosis, or brittle bone disease, because the body extracts calcium from bone when it doesn't have enough vitamin D on hand to absorb adequate calcium from food.

Researchers tested blood samples taken from a total of 290 consecutive patients arriving at Massachusetts General Hospital during March and September 1994. Fifty-seven percent had insufficient vitamin D, report Joel S. Finkelstein of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and his colleagues in the March 19 New England Journal of Medicine.

Most housebound people and people over age 65 were found deficient, a result that mirrors past studies. Elderly people tend to lack vitamin D in their diets and get outside less often than younger people.

Surprisingly, 42 percent of the 77 healthy, nonelderly people tested also showed a deficiency. These people, whose age averaged 44, had come to the hospital with complaints, such as chest pains, that turned out not to stem from medical problems.

Since thinning bone isn't apparent until a fracture occurs, these younger people wouldn't notice any effects of vitamin D deficiency, says Michael Parfitt of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock. …

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