A 78-year old woman, tired and bent. She's lost an inch and a half of her original height because of collapse of several vertebra in her spine over the years, leaving her with a "dowager's hump," a stooped position that many older women assume with advanced osteoporosis. It's also left her with chronic back pain.
(Image courtesy of National Library of Medicine)
This poor woman also has arthritis in her knees, hips, and spine. All three locations add to her pain.
She also has hypertension, a high blood sugar approaching diabetes, and distortions of cholesterol values, including a low HDL and high triglycerides.
Look inside: On a simple x-ray, we see that the bones of her body are unusually transparent, with just a thin rim of bone at the outer edges, depleted of calcium. Weight-bearing bones like the spine, hips, and knees have eroded and collapsed.
On an echocardiogram of her heart (ultrasound), she has dense calcium surrounding her mitral valve ("mitral anular calcium"), a finding that rarely impairs the valve itself but is a marker for heightened potential for heart attack and other adverse events. Her aortic valve, another of the four heart valves, is also loaded with calcium. In the aortic valve, unlike the mitral valve, the collection of calcium makes the valve struggle to open, causing a murmur. The valve is rigid and can barely open to less than half of its original opening width.
If a heart scan were performed, we'd see the coronary calcification, along with calcification of the aorta, and the mitral and aortic valves.
Obviously, it's not a pretty picture. It is, however, a typical snapshot of an average 78-year old woman, or any other elderly man or woman, for that matter.
This collection of arthritis, osteoporosis, coronary and valve calcification, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol patterns, and pain is not unusual by any stretch. Perhaps you even recognize someone you know in this description. Perhaps it's you.
Look at this list again. Does it seem familiar? I'd say that the common factor that ties these seemingly unrelated conditions together is chronic and severe deficiency of vitamin D . Vitamin D deficiency leads to arthritis, osteoporosis, coronary and valve calcification, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol patterns, and pain.
Should we go so far as to proclaim that aging, or at least many of the undesirable phenomena of aging, are really just manifestations of vitamin D deficiency? I would propose that much of aging is really deficiency of vitamin D, chronic and severe, in its end stages.
My colleagues might propose a 30- or 40-year long randomized trial, one designed to test whether vitamin D or placebo makes any difference.