Vitamin D: The role in the overall health and well-being of older adults

By Alan Lukazewski, SAIL Council Member

Vitamin D plays an important role in maintaining bone health by maintaining bone density through improved calcium absorption. Studies have shown that vitamin D supplementation, sufficient to produce adequate blood levels, reduces fractures and falls.

There are also other benefits of vitamin D on health such as effects on the immune system, improving muscle strength, and strengthening memory. All older adults should have a conversation with their physician about the role of vitamin D in their health since older adults are at risk for low vitamin D levels that can negatively impact their lives.

There are very few sources of vitamin D from foods (fatty fish and liver are two of the only options) and most is made in the body when sunlight converts the body’s own vitamin D to its active form. The concern for older adults is that vitamin D production ceases during winter months, and older adults become at-risk for deficiency. Deficiency is defined by blood levels of the active form 25-hydroxy vitamin D that are below 12. There is another classification less severe when levels are between 12 and 20, referred to as insufficient. In either case, it is recommended to bring blood levels to above 20.

Talk to your doctor about checking your Vitamin D.

The current recommendation from experts is to get a vitamin D blood level. However, you may want to ensure that your physician documents properly the need for a vitamin D level so it is covered by Medicare. Other insurers inconsistently cover vitamin D levels, so check first before getting a test.

With little to no sun exposure, at least 800IU daily of D3 is recommended to prevent insufficiency or deficiency. If you are already low on vitamin D, supplementation at this dose will NOT achieve sufficient levels. You would need to have a prescribed dose of vitamin D that is likely to bring your level up to a target that is sufficient to maintain your health. This is where the blood level is needed in order to determine the exact dose needed to achieve a sufficient level in the blood.

So make a plan for ensuring adequate vitamin D to add to your plan for healthy aging, which should include a balanced diet, plenty of exercise or activity, and avoiding medications that can cause more harm than good. Stay well!

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