Update: Seniors and Vitamin D

Vitamin D, sometimes called "the sunshine vitamin," is necessary for building strong bones. It is also thought to lower the risk of high blood pressure, certain cancers, and problems with the immune system. During 2012, vitamin D was in the news quite a bit when several studies examined its role in healthy aging:

Vitamin D and mobility. Researchers from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC, reported that seniors who do not consume enough vitamin D are at higher risk of becoming disabled and losing mobility. Denise Houston, Ph.D., R.D., announced, "We observed about a 30 percent increased risk of mobility limitations for those older adults who had low levels of vitamin D, and almost a two-fold higher risk of disability."

What is the role of vitamin D in keeping seniors active and independent? According to Houston, "Vitamin D plays an important role in muscle function, so it is plausible that low levels of the vitamin could result in the onset of decreased lower muscle strength and physical performance. Vitamin D may also indirectly affect physical function, as low vitamin D levels have also been associated with diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and lung disease—conditions that are frequent causes of decline in physical function."

This study was published in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences

Vitamin D and fall prevention. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) is a group of national experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine who work to improve the health of all Americans. The Task Force recently updated their recommendations on fall prevention to include vitamin D supplementation. The guidelines also include exercise, fall risk evaluation and nutrition. It is believed that vitamin D protects against falls by promoting bone health, muscle strength and good balance. The Task Force instructs seniors to discuss vitamin D supplementation and dosage with their healthcare provider. See the USPSTF consumer factsheet "Preventing Falls in Older Adults" to learn more.

Vitamin D and longevity. A third study showed that among frail older adults, low levels of vitamin D can raise the risk of death. Oregon State University researcher Ellen Smit reported that  up to 70 percent of Americans have insufficient levels of vitamin D, and recommended that older adults be screened to determine their level of the nutrient. Said Smit, "We want the older population to be able to live independently for as long as possible, and those who are frail have a number of health problems as they age. A balanced diet including good sources of vitamin D like milk and fish and being physically active outdoors will go a long way in helping older adults stay healthy and independent for longer."

The study was published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Read more on the Oregon State University website

How can seniors get enough vitamin D?

We get a certain amount of this nutrient from the foods we eat. Egg yolks, fatty fish and mushrooms are some of the naturally occurring sources, and other foods may also be fortified with vitamin D, such as milk, cheese, juice and cereal. We also soak in vitamin D from sun exposure. During the cooler months of the year, the latter is a challenge for most of us. Even in the summer, most of us limit our sun exposure to avoid raising the risk of skin cancer, so supplements may be recommended.  As vitamin D is stored in the body's fat, taking too much can allow dangerous levels to build up. It is important to discuss your vitamin D intake with your healthcare provider. 


Source: Assisting Hand Home Care in association with IlluminAge; Copyright 2013, IlluminAge.