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Vitamin D and Muscle Function

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The aim of this review is to summarize current knowledge on the relation between vitamin D and muscle function. Molecular mechanisms of vitamin D action on muscle tissue have been known for many years and include genomic and non-genomic effects. Genomic effects are initiated by binding of 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 (1,25(OH)2D) to its nuclear receptor, which results in changes in gene transcription of messenger RNA and subsequent protein synthesis. Non-genomic effects of vitamin D are rapid and mediated through a membrane-bound vitamin D receptor (VDR). Genetic variations in the VDR and the importance of VDR polymorphisms in the development of osteoporosis are still a matter of controversy and debate. Most recently, VDR polymorphisms have been described to affect muscle function. The skin has an enormous capacity for vitamin D production and supplies the body with 80–100% of its requirements of vitamin D. Age, latitude, time of day, season of the year and pigmentation can dramatically affect the production of vitamin D in the skin. Hypovitaminosis D is a common feature in elderly people living in northern latitudes and skin coverage has been established as an important factor leading to vitamin D deficiency. A serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D level below 50 nmol/l has been associated with increased body sway and a level below 30 nmol/l with decreased muscle strength. Changes in gait, difficulties in rising from a chair, inability to ascend stairs and diffuse muscle pain are the main clinical symptoms in osteomalacic myopathy. Calcium and vitamin D supplements together might improve neuromuscular function in elderly persons who are deficient in calcium and vitamin D. Thus 800 IU of cholecalciferol in combination with 1200 mg of elemental calcium reduces hip fractures and other non-vertebral fractures and should generally be recommended in individuals who are deficient in calcium and vitamin D. Given the strong interdependency of vitamin D deficiency, low serum calcium and high levels of parathyroid hormone, however, it is difficult to identify exact mechanisms of action.

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Received: 30 March 2001 / Accepted: 20 September 2001

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Pfeifer, M., Begerow, B. & Minne, H. Vitamin D and Muscle Function. Osteoporos Int 13, 187–194 (2002).

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