New research published in The Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging has found that vitamin D use has increased dramatically among elderly people in Finland.
Supplementing with vitamin D becomes more and more important as we age. As we get old, our skin thins, dampening our ability to make good amounts of vitamin D. Furthermore, we lose mobility and stop going outside in the sunshine in general.
This means that public health efforts should especially focus on ensuring that older adults are supplementing with vitamin D.
Recently, researchers out of Finland wanted to know if the elderly are doing a better job supplementing with vitamin D since the late 1990s, at least in Finland.
The research team surveyed a random sample of 2,511 older adults aged 75 to 95 years old in 1999 and a random sample of 1,637 older adults of the same age in 2009 all who live in Helsinki, the capital city of Finland. The researchers were interested in comparing the use of vitamins, minerals and fish oil between the groups to determine what sort of changes had occurred over time.
The participants were first asked whether or not they took vitamins, minerals, or fish oil. If they answered yes, they were then asked to note their individual use of vitamin A, B, C, D, E and multivitamins. For minerals, they were asked to note their use of calcium, magnesium and iron. Finally, they were asked to mark whether they took fish-oil and omega-3 products, or just fish-liver oil.
Here’s what they found:
- Out of the total population, 1,251 people in 1999 and 1,095 in 2009 used vitamins, minerals or fish-oil.
- Vitamin D use increased dramatically from 12.5% in 1999 to 58.4% in 2009. The use of all other vitamins declined over the 10 years.
- Calcium use increased from 22% in 1999 to 55.2% in 2009 and magnesium use increased from 11.7% in 1999 to 17.5% in 2009. There was no change in the use of iron.
- Fish-oil/omega-3 products increased from 2.7% in 1999 to 9.6% in 2009 while use of fish-liver oil decreased from 7.5% in 1999 to 1.9% in 2009.
The researchers concluded,
“This study shows that the use of vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, and fish-oil/omega-3 products were used more frequently in 2009 than 1999 but the use of other vitamins had decreased over ten years. The use of vitamin D was almost five times higher in 2009 than in 1999, whereas the reduction was ten-fold among the users of vitamin E and A.”
The researchers note that their study is limited by the fact that they didn’t analyze how often or for how long participants used each supplement. The study didn’t look at the amount taken by each participant, so we cannot know if the doses used also increased over time. Finally, the researchers cannot guarantee that respondents were completely accurate in stating their use of supplements.
The results of this study shows how far efforts in vitamin D have come. With nearly a fivefold increase in the use of vitamin D over 10 years, it is clear that progress has been made. Future studies should look at temporal trends in vitamin D supplement doses and vitamin D levels to determine the effects these changes may have on various health outcomes.
Savikko, N. et al. Secular trends in the use of vitamins, minerals and fish-oil products in two cohorts of community-dwelling older people in Helsinki – population-based surveys in 1999 and 2009. The Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging, 2013.