Maintaining good vitamin D levels can greatly benefit the health of seniors. Unfortunately, many people are vitamin D deficient! Fifty percent of Americans are deficient in vitamin D and up to 70-80 percent of seniors are deficient. Vitamin D benefits include reducing pain, fractures and falls, strengthening bones, reducing colds and flu, decreasing risk of heart disease, and improvement in mood and energy level. Encouraging seniors to get vitamin D levels checked is important.
Very few foods contain vitamin D. Vitamin D is manufactured in your body when ultraviolet rays from the sun hit your skin (without sun block, of course). The UV rays activate production of vitamin D, which then gets converted in your liver into its active form. Since you would need to get sun daily and without sunscreen (and even then you may not get enough), supplements are a good option.
Vitamin D is important for everyone, but seniors may benefit the most. Adequate levels of this vitamin results in higher bone density and strength, since it increases the absorption of calcium. This is important, since most seniors have some degree of osteoporosis (weak bones). With stronger bones, seniors are less likely to break them. It also improves muscle strength and balance. A U.S. federal task force review on vitamin D in 2010 revealed that seniors who took vitamin D supplements reduced their risk of falls by 17%.
Vitamin D also seems to slow arthritis, and reduce joint and back pain from which many seniors suffer. Depression and mood can also be improved. Depression is a common problem resulting from a low vitamin D level. Other benefits include activating the immune system which helps fight colds and flu (the yearly flu shot is still important though!), and decreased risk of cancer, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Recommendations for Seniors
All seniors should be encouraged to get vitamin D levels checked. Testing is usually covered by Medicare and Medicaid, and can be done at any time. Though a vitamin D level above 30 ng/mL is considered sufficient, the goal level is 50-80 ng/mL. Vitamin D3 is the best form to take, since it is ready to go to work in the body. If the supplement product is labeled just vitamin D, it is vitamin D2 and still has to be converted in the liver to vitamin D3. The ability to do this may decrease as people age. Vitamin D may be “only a vitamin,” but it has countless health benefits