Study: UV Light Therapy Combats Vitamin D Deficiency in Elderly

During the winter months, when the UV rays are typically not sufficient to stimulate vitamin D production in the human skin as the sunlight is too dim, the human body can suffer from an acute vitamin D deficiency. For older, frailer people who, throughout the year, spend little time outside and are not able to spend time in the sunshine, the risk of suffering from a vitamin D deficiency is particularly acute. A shortage of the "sunshine vitamin" can lead to osteoporosis, frequent falls - and often, fatal bone fractures - as well as infections and autoimmune diseases. Treatment with vitamin D supplements is a common method used to counter a vitamin D deficiency.

UV light combats vitamin D deficiency in the elderlyAnother method has been found, in a pilot study by Dutch scientists, to be at least as effective as supplements and is cheaper: The treatment of eight patients in a nursing home - who were each suffering from low levels of vitamin D - with UV light. The therapy, administered once a week during an eight-week period, raised their vitamin D levels to almost the scientifically recommended minimum level.

"The results of the study indicate that vitamin D deficiency can be effectively remedied and prevented through regular, ongoing treatment with UV light," says Victor Chel from the medical faculty of the University of Amsterdam, which was responsible for the study. In addition, Chel went on to explain that this treatment was less expensive than the administration of vitamin D supplements - and was useful in cases where the patient is already taking several kinds of medication. This is often the case with older people who, as they suffer from multiple illnesses, are restricted in terms of the drugs they are able to take.

UV light treatment as effective as sunshineFor the pilot study, eight patients in a nursing home with an average age of 79 - the age range was 71-87 years of age - were used as subjects. All subjects had their vitamin D levels measured at the beginning of the study, and were found to have an average of 28.5 nano-moles per litre of blood (nmol/L) which is considerably below the deficiency threshold of 50 nmol/L. During an eight-week period, the subjects were exposed to UV light using lamps with a UVB intensity of 0.5 MED (minimal erythema dose) once a week. Following the study, the subjects' vitamin D levels averaged 46.5 nmol/L. An average level of 50 nmol/L of vitamin D is scientifically considered to be a sufficient level for the positive effects of the vitamin to begin to be observed. 70-100 nmol/L are the optimal levels. Vitamin D production is stimulated by UV radiation with 90 percent of it being produced in the skin.

Note: A summary of the study "V.G.M. Chel, M.E. Oms, S. Pavel, F. de Gruijl, A. Brand and P. Lips: Prevention and treatment of vitamin D deficiency in Dutch psycho geriatric nursing home residents by weekly half-body UVB exposure after showering: a pilot study" can be found on the Sunlight Research Forum (SRF) website,  and is available to download.

The SRF is a not-for-profit organization based in The Netherlands. SRF's aim is to help bring to the forefront the latest medical and scientific information on the effects of moderate UV exposure on man. It takes time, often decades, for new scientific ideas to be accepted and assimilated, first into the general body of scientific knowledge and finally into policy. SRF wants to reduce this time to a minimum so that the benefits of research can lead to a better understanding of UV effects on man and will become available to the public without any unnecessary delay. SRF hopes to provide policy makers with correct information on which to base national health policy - and individuals with better information on which to base choices about their lifestyles.

New research and well-founded ideas on moderate UV exposure both indoor and outdoor will be presented and discussed in the Sunlight Research Forum by people working in the health disciplines, by academics and by journalists.

Sunlight Research Forum (SRF): UV light therapy to combat vitamin D deficiency

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