Seniors and Vitamin D Deficiency

vitamin D

You’re probably aware of vitamin D. Known as the “sunshine vitamin,” this very important nutrient seems to be everywhere at the grocery store – you’ve probably seen “fortified with vitamin D” on the labels of numerous popular foods, including cereals and orange juice.

But did you know that despite it being added to or in many of the foods we eat, about one billion people across the globe have a vitamin D deficiency? Considering there are almost eight billion people on the planet, that means every one in eight individuals doesn’t get enough vitamin D[1]. The Cleveland Clinic states that 35% of adults in the United States have a vitamin D deficiency, and it most commonly affects seniors over the age of 65.

Getting enough vitamin D is important. That’s because it can affect everything from your risk of developing cancer to your mental health. Plenty of vitamin D helps ensure that your body can absorb the other nutrients it needs to prevent the loss of bone density as well and reduce the risk of fractures.

Though an emergency response solution from Alert1 is a vital part of staying safe by getting help immediately in the event of a fall or other emergency, there are other actions you can take to make sure you remain in the best health possible. That includes asking your doctor to check your vitamin D levels and making sure you get enough of this powerful nutrient.

Why Vitamin D Matters

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that provides many health benefits. In addition to being a nutrient we can get from food and ultraviolet light, it’s also a hormone made in our bodies. Vitamin D is essential for a wide variety of bodily functions. It affects things you might find surprising, including your emotional and mental health. Here’s what to expect from this little powerhouse vitamin:

·         It helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorus, both of which are key elements in building and strengthening bone. This matters greatly for the elderly, who suffer the loss of bone density and the increased possibility of fractures.

·         It has a preventative effect in helping control infections and inhibiting the growth of cancer cells. Vitamin D boosts the immune system[2]. That might be why it seems to make severe illness from influenza or COVID-19 much less likely.

·         Vitamin D can reduce inflammation. Inflammation is often associated with autoimmune diseases, and studies have found that those who have lower levels of vitamin D are more likely to have autoimmune problems, including rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, or type 1 diabetes[3].

·         Low levels of vitamin D are strongly associated with developing multiple sclerosis[4].

·         Good vitamin D levels are associated with a lower risk of heart disease. Those with lower levels are at greater risk of heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure. However, it’s not sure whether the vitamin D deficiency leads to these problems or if the deficiency is simply an indication of a health problem[5].

·         Those who suffer from depression and anxiety could benefit from vitamin D supplements. Studies have found that those suffering from major depressive disorder or anxiety who took a vitamin D supplement felt better than those who didn’t get enough vitamin D[6]. Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression with a recurring seasonal pattern, has also been associated with lower levels of vitamin D[7].

·         Cognitive ability might be affected by low levels of the vitamin. The Mayo Clinic reports a link between low vitamin D levels and cognitive decline.

·         Scientists aren’t sure why many of the body’s organs have receptors for vitamin D, but the presence of those receptors suggests there are important things that this nutrient does that we haven’t figured out yet.

How Can I Get Enough Vitamin D?

Unfortunately, very few foods contain vitamin D naturally, so some are fortified with it. For instance, it’s not unusual to find milk products that are fortified with vitamin D. These common foods will help boost your vitamin D levels but you really can’t rely on them to provide all the vitamin D you need[8]:

·         Commonly fortified foods include orange juice, milk, yogurt and cereals

·         Cod liver oil

·         Fish, including salmon, swordfish, sardines, herring and tuna

·         Shrimp

·         Egg yolks

·         Beef liver

·         Mushrooms

As you can see from this short list of foods, those who follow a vegan diet are at greater risk of having a vitamin D deficiency and will need to rely on supplements to get the vitamin D they need.

In addition to getting vitamin D from foods, you can get it from the sun as well. Ultraviolet-B (UVB) rays help your body create vitamin D in the skin. However, most people are not in the sun enough to build up the required amount of vitamin D for the body to function at its best. Individuals who live in cold climates often have the most trouble with getting vitamin D, as they don’t go outside as often – that’s also why the levels of vitamin D in the body drop during the winter. Generally speaking, your skin needs to absorb the sun’s rays for 15 – 20 minutes in order to get your daily dose of D.

There are other problems with getting enough vitamin D from the sun. Those who have darker skin have more trouble absorbing the rays that help produce vitamin D. And our lifestyle in general can be a hindrance, as vehicle windows, sunglasses, and the like have ultraviolet technology that blocks the UVB rays altogether. This is actually a good thing, as the UVB rays that lead to vitamin D creation in the body can also lead to skin cancer. Therefore, wearing full clothing that protects the skin from these rays as well as sunscreen that blocks them is usually recommended – but that means that vitamin D production suffers.

Those who have inflammatory bowel disease or have undergone bypass surgery that removes the upper part of the small intestine might not be able to absorb as much vitamin D. Those who are obese also tend to have lower levels of vitamin D, as the nutrient accumulates in the fatty tissues rather than being absorbed by the rest of the body. That’s why blood levels of vitamin D tend to go up naturally when a person loses weight[9].

How Do I Know if I’m Not Getting Enough?

If you aren’t getting enough vitamin D, you might feel very tired and achy. You might have severe muscle pain, bone pain, or weakness. And you might suffer from stress fractures, especially in the lower part of your body, including the legs, pelvis, and hips[10].

In all things health-related, it’s important to be proactive. In addition to getting your vitamin D levels checked on a regular basis, it’s a good idea to consider a medical alert device to keep you safe. Wearing a medical alert pendant or watch every day can assure you that if you do ever suffer from weakness or fatigue and experience a fall as a result, you can reach out and get the help you need immediately.

What Vitamin D Supplements Do I Need?

Obviously it’s difficult to get the amounts of vitamin D you need, so supplements are often recommended. There are two common supplements for vitamin D on the market, according to the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health:

·         Vitamin D2, also known as “ergocalciferol”, is a naturally-occurring form of vitamin D found in plants and fungi, as well as in the ultraviolet-B light produced by the sun. 

·         Vitamin D3, also known as “cholecalciferol”, is found in animals, including humans. This supplement has been shown to increase blood levels of vitamin D faster than its D2 counterpart.

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of vitamin D for those aged 19 or older is 600 International Units (IU). For seniors who are aged 70 or older, the RDA goes up to 800 IU every day. However, you should always be careful not to take a supplement with more than 4,000 IU each day unless your doctor tells you otherwise. (Keep in mind that if your vitamin D levels are extremely low, your doctor might prescribe a short-term supplement that is much stronger than 4,000 IU. This is fine as long as it is taken for only a short period of time and under close supervision by your physician.)

To put those numbers in perspective, the average intake of vitamin D from food and supplements was only 308 IU each day in women aged 51 to 71, according to the National Institutes of Health. If a person relies on food alone, the average intake is 140 IU each day. That’s not nearly enough to prevent health problems from developing.

Can I Take Too Much Vitamin D?

It is possible to have too much of a good thing. If you take too much vitamin D via supplements, you might experience the symptoms of vitamin D toxicity. These include a loss of appetite, weight loss, and irregular heartbeat. It can also include hardening of the blood vessels and tissues due to higher levels of calcium in the blood. This can damage your heart and kidneys. That’s why it’s so important to talk with your doctor about the supplements you’re taking and have your levels of vitamin D checked with a blood test on a regular basis[11].

Since too much vitamin D can lead to issues with the body retaining calcium, it’s important to know the signs of calcium toxicity as well. According to Healthline, these include nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, apathy, dehydration and increased thirst, and confusion.

Avoid these issues by keeping all your recommended doctor’s visits and having your blood levels checked on a regular basis. This is the only true way to determine your vitamin D levels. If you are taking supplements, follow your doctor’s recommendations carefully.

Medical alert technology for seniors, especially devices with fall detection, can help elderly adults stay protected if you do happen to experience a problem. Confusion can lead to falls, and that can lead to fractures. Having help available at the touch of a button takes away the fear that you might feel if you’ve fallen and can’t get up or can’t reach a phone or call out for help. Press the button and get help fast—it’s that easy. Get that peace of mind with an affordable Alert1 Medical Alert System.