Vitamin D is an important nutrient that is involved in various metabolic activities in the body. From bone strength to cognitive functions, Vitamin D plays a critical role in the healthy functioning of body systems. Unfortunately, some people, especially seniors, aren’t getting enough due to aging-associated body changes and lifestyle choices.
Why is Vitamin D Important?
This essential nutrient helps the body absorb calcium, which aids in bone strength. Without adequate amounts, your body may lose bone tissue and your risk of developing osteoporosis may increase.
Vitamin D contributes to Senior’s health in the following ways:
- Lowers risk of osteoporosis and consequently less frequent falls and fractures
- Strengthens muscle thus improving balance
- Help maintain mobility
- Decreases risk for some chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes
- Protects against infection
Why Seniors are at Risk of Deficiency
Seniors are at a higher risk of being Vitamin D deficient and also face more negative consequences as a result. You can get vitamin D from some foods and your skin cells can synthesize vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. In addition, your body takes inactive vitamin D produced by your skin and activate it in your kidneys. However, aging is associated with slowing down of some body functions associated with Vitamin D synthesis while also forcing many seniors to change their lifestyle.
Some health and lifestyle changes that increase Vitamin D deficiency risks in seniors include:
- Lower dietary Vitamin D intake as a result of lower calorie intake
- Decreased intestinal absorption
- Impaired kidneys ability to activate Vitamin D
- Diminished exposure to sunlight
How Much Vitamin You Need?
You need more vitamin D as you age. Until the age of 50, 200 international units(IU) is recommended for both men and women. Between 50-70, the adequate daily intake is 400 IU. Seniors over the age of 70 should try to get about 600 IU a day. Some studies found that 800 IU is the best dose for preventing fractures. Talk to your doctor because your individual body needs may be different.
Consequences of Vitamin D Deficiency
For seniors who are deficient in vitamin D, the immediate effects may be difficult to determine. Over time, a chronic deficiency will lead to a higher risk of osteoporosis and other bone disorders. Seniors are less likely to maintain their physical mobility and may have a higher risk of falls and bone fractures. This can lead to early nursing home admission and an overall loss of independence. Studies have also shown that statistically, people with low vitamin D are at a much greater risk of depression. Finally, seniors may also face an increased risk for heart disease, certain types of cancer, and diabetes.
How Can Seniors Get Vitamin D?
Sunlight: Being outside for at least 30 minutes twice a week without the use of sunscreen is recommended. Sunlight may not be adequate though for people who live in a colder climate or those with darker complexions. In the colder months such as November through February, sunlight likely won’t be adequate.
Food: The best foods that contain high amounts of vitamin D include fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel, fortified milk, and fortified cereal. Some juices may also contain vitamin D. Although vitamin D is not found naturally in many foods, it is fortified in most cereals, so breakfast may contain a reasonable amount.
Supplements: When diet and sunshine aren’t adequate, it may be beneficial to take a vitamin D supplement. This is a great option for people who are at the risk of having a vitamin D deficiency and can’t make up for it through other means. Vitamin D supplements as advised by your doctor can help seniors maintain their bone health.
Eating a balanced diet and engaging in outdoor activities may help prevent Vitamin D deficiency. There are many signs that are associated with Vitamin D deficiency, but they may also be associated with other diseases. Hence, if a deficiency is suspected, you or your loved one should visit the doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.