For many years, doctors were mainly concerned about children getting enough vitamin D. This is why back in the day, foods were fortified with vitamin D to help prevent rickets, a bone disorder that usually resulted in bowed legs in children. However, in recent years it became clear that seniors were also at a higher risk for vitamin D deficiency, which can lead to osteoporosis, hip fractures, arthritis, cancers, and several other health issues.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is unlike regular vitamins in that it’s actually a steroid hormone your body creates primarily through sun exposure. It helps our bodies absorb calcium, which is essential for strong bones. A lack of vitamin D leads to a loss of bone tissue and brittle bones, which results in muscle weakness and bone pain.
Studies have shown that the additional benefits of vitamin D also include possibly protecting you from a myriad of health issues, like the flu, tuberculosis, a weak immune system, and even breast, colon and prostate cancers. Vitamin D also helps us maintain our mobility, regulates cell growth and carry messages through our nervous system.
Sources of Vitamin D
Our bodies make vitamin D through sun exposure, and we can also get the levels we need through our diet and supplements. Sunshine is a great source of vitamin D, but during these winter months getting the amount of sunshine we need can be difficult! Vitamin D foods to add to your diet include yogurt, eggs and fish, like tuna or salmon. If you’re going to take a supplement, you’ll often find that vitamin D and calcium are combined into one pill. Seniors over the age of 70 need 800 international units (IU) daily, while those under 70 need 600 IU. Regardless of the source of vitamin D, before our bodies can use it, it needs to be activated in our liver and kidneys.
It’s estimated that 95% of senior citizens in the United States may be deficient in vitamin D. The only way to find out for sure if you have a vitamin D deficiency is to get blood tested. However, some of the warning signs include:
- Your age. If you’re 50 or older, your skin doesn’t create as much vitamin D from sun exposure as it did in your younger years. Seniors are more likely to spend more time indoors or eat less vitamin-rich foods.
- Feeling depressed. A study showed that elderly patients who were vitamin D deficient were more likely to be depressed than those with optimal levels.
- Achy bones. Chronic aches and pains are commonly misdiagnosed as fibromyalgia. Vitamin D deficiency causes an issue with the way your body processes calcium into your bones, leading to throbbing or aching bone pain.
- Darker skin. Dark skinned individuals need as much as 10 times more sun exposure than lighter-skinned people. The more pigment in your skin, the more time you need to spend in the sun to create the necessary amount of vitamin D.
- Having stomach conditions. If you suffer from a gastrointestinal issue like Crohn’s or celiac disease, these conditions can make it difficult for your body to absorb dietary fat. Since vitamin D is fat-soluble, your body may not be absorbing the levels you need.
It’s vital that seniors get an adequate amount of vitamin D. You can lower your risk for bone disorders like osteoporosis, which helps in the prevention of falls and keeps you mobile. If you think you might have a vitamin D deficiency, it’s important to talk to your doctor to determine how much you need and what types of supplements you should take.
For more information about American Senior Communities, please visit www.ASCSeniorCare.com.