Vitamin D and Octogenarians

Health Professional

Roger practically bounced in his chair, vibrating with energy.

"I haven't felt like this in years I can work around the yard all day and still have energy left over. It must be the vitamin D!" Roger's wife rolled her eyes, though with a twinkle and a little smile.

At age 84, Roger started out with pretty good health, despite a prosthetic valve and bypass surgery 5 years earlier. He looked 70, perhaps younger.

But just two months earlier, Roger had appeared sapped, spent and without interest in life, having lost even the enjoyment of his seven great grandchildren.

I've seen this effect now in about 20 octogenarians, dramatic restoration of youthfulness and vigor, a virtual reawakening for some.

Most of the octogenarians experiencing this effect are taking between 4000-8000 units per day to achieve a target blood level of 50 ng/ml. In my cardiology practice and in our heart disease reversal program, all patients have vitamin D blood levels checked. Before vitamin D supplementation, most people 80 years and older start with 25-OH-vitamin D3 levels of 10 ng/ml or less-profound deficiency. The average dose of vitamin D to raise levels to the target of 50 ng/ml tends to be higher in this age group, since by age 80, most people have essentially lost the capacity to convert 7-hydrocholesterol to active vitamin D3 in the skin. (One recent patient, a 78-year old, came to my office sporting a deep brown, leather-like tan. When I told him we'd be checking a vitamin D level, he remarked, "Oh, don't bother, doc. Look at me!" referring to his deep tan. His blood level of 25-OH-vitamin D3: 7 ng/ml-profound deficiency.)

Now having witnessed numerous "re-births" of octogenarians multiple times, I believe the effect is real. It is an enormously gratifying experience to see someone's interest in life re-ignited. Unfortunately, my observations are too informal to qualify as a study. (I'm not even sure how to quantify this effect. I suppose some sort of muscle and coordination testing might yield quantifiable measures.)

The benefits of vitamin D are not, of course, confined to octogenarians. But the 80-year old plus community just seem to demonstrate more dramatic results, since they've fallen farther down an age-related decline of muscle strength, coordination, and vigor. Thus, they serve as a very graphic model for this effect. Younger people can also obtain the same benefits, though they might not be as visible.

I'm not the only one who has observed the wonderful effects of vitamin D. Studies have shown that vitamin D replacement:

  • Improves mental function and memory
  • Improves coordination
  • Reduces falls and fractures, including feared hip fractures
  • Reverses winter "blues" (a very important effect in my Wisconsin neighborhood!)

Add this list to the other newly-recognized benefits of vitamin D replacement: reduced blood pressure, reduced blood sugar, increased bone density, improvement in arthritis, reduced inflammatory responses, reduced cancer risk (colon, breast, bladder, prostate), enhanced immune responses, and among the most exciting (to me): reduced risk for heart attack and heart disease. (I will be reporting my experiences with vitamin D and heart disease to the medical community in spring, 2008.)

I haven't been so excited about the effects of a nutritional supplement in a long time. Vitamin D continues to yield surprises every day in its array of positive and powerful effects.

Could we say that vitamin D restores youthfulness? I believe we can. While it may not transform an 80-year old into a 30-year old, it can restore vigor and youthful energy to that of a 60-year old.