by Katherine Matutes, Ph.D.
Vitamin D is often called the sunshine vitamin, because humans have the ability to make vitamin D when sunlight shines on the skin. Vitamin D is important for nerve function, hormone synthesis, muscle contraction and it is imperative for the maintenance of strong bones.
Unfortunately, recent studies suggest that many Americans don’t get enough sunlight to produce adequate Vitamin D for optimum health and as we age we become less efficient at turning sunlight into Vitamin D.
Additionally, aging is often accompanied with an increase in intolerance to lactose, the sugars found in milk and diary. To avoid the uncomfortable side effects of lactose intolerance many individuals over 50 decrease their consumption of milk and dairy, which are excellent sources of Vitamin D.
Side effects of low vitamin D status can be depression, decreased cognitive function, weakened bones and an increased risk of falling. Because Vitamin D is important for muscle contraction and bone health, sub-optimal vitamin D levels can lead to more falls and poorer recovery from a fall. Accidental falls are a leading cause of disability and death among seniors so preventing falls and reducing risk factors for falls is very important.
So how can we get more Vitamin D? Great dietary sources of Vitamin D are milk, dairy products, and oily fishes such as salmon or tuna. Vitamin D supplements are an inexpensive and easy way to increase your intake. According to the Institute of Medicine, 600- 800 IU of Vitamin D per day is adequate for the senior population.
A simple blood test performed at the doctor’s office can reveal your Vitamin D status, telling you whether you need to take in more each day through supplements or your dietary decisions. A discussion about the use of supplements with one’s physician and pharmacist is always recommended.
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