Vitamin D, often referred to as the sunshine vitamin, is a vital nutrient needed to maintain healthy and strong bones. Everyone needs it, but according to the National Institutes of Health, adults ages 71 and older have a greater need for it.
What is Vitamin D?
It’s called the sunshine vitamin because our bodies can’t produce it without the help of sunlight. Unfortunately, vitamin D isn’t found in many foods we typically consume, so getting our recommended daily allowance can be challenging. Seniors have an even more significant challenge getting enough of the vitamin because our ability to create vitamin D from sunlight decreases as we age.
Vitamin D helps the body absorb and retain calcium and phosphorus, which are both critical for building bone. Having sufficient levels of vitamin D is essential for protecting against the development of osteoporosis, a bone disease that develops when bone mineral density and bone mass decrease. When this occurs, it can increase your risk of fractures and broken bones.
Benefits of Vitamin D in Older Adults
In addition to creating healthy bones and preventing dangerous falls, vitamin D provides many benefits to the aging population.
Stronger Bones and Muscles
We’ve already discussed how vitamin D absorbs calcium which allows for bone mineralization. Vitamin D essentially prevents our bones from becoming brittle. And with that, it helps to strengthen our muscles. Research has shown that vitamin D deficiency significantly increases the odds of impaired muscle strength and performance. About four in 10 people with vitamin D deficiency experience muscle weakness. Adequate vitamin D levels increase muscle protein synthesis, helping to strengthen and build muscle.
Better Immune Function
Many people tend to be vitamin D deficient during the winter months due to not spending as much time outside in the sun. These are also the months that most people get sick the most often. This is no coincidence. Vitamin D plays a critical role in promoting immune response. It helps your immune system fight off harmful bacteria and viruses and prevent infection, such as with the flu.
Support Oral Health
Because of its ability to help the body absorb calcium, vitamin D is crucial to oral health. Vitamin D helps to prevent tooth decay and gum disease by keeping your teeth and jawbone healthy and strong.
Aids in Weight Management
Lower levels of vitamin D have been associated with obesity. Research has shown that vitamin D plays a role in regulating appetite and body weight. Getting enough vitamin D keeps your hormone levels in check, including the hormone leptin, which is responsible for inhibiting hunger.
How to Get Vitamin D
Food – Although not highly abundant in food, there are some food sources that provide high levels of naturally occurring vitamin D. These include:
- Wild-caught fish (salmon and mackerel)
- Beef or calf liver
- Shiitake mushrooms
- Egg yolks
- Yogurt, cheese, and milk
- Orange juice
It’s important to try to include some of these vitamin-D-rich foods in your diet.
Supplement – However, for most people, especially seniors, the best way to get enough vitamin D is by taking a supplement. Vitamin D supplements are available in two forms: vitamin D2 (“ergocalciferol” or pre-vitamin D) and vitamin D3 (“cholecalciferol”). You should always talk to your primary care provider before taking any type of supplement. Vitamin D does interact with some medications, so it’s important to take precautions and be advised by your doctor.
Sunshine – Spending time outdoors is the best way to naturally get your daily dose of vitamin D. It is the most efficient way for your body to absorb the vitamin. Although, you do need to be careful not to burn to prevent skin cancer. Aim for 10 minutes outdoors several times a week if possible. Your exposure time depends on how sensitive your skin is to sunlight. Don’t overdo it. Try getting sunshine while doing activities outside that you enjoy, such as gardening, walking, playing golf, tennis, or pickleball.
Whether it’s through food, supplements, or sunshine, getting enough vitamin D for seniors is vital for healthy living and aging. It keeps you strong, free of disease, smiling, and fit. So talk to your provider today to ensure you’re getting the recommended vitamin D for your age and lifestyle.