The Importance of Vitamin D for Seniors

Many seniors fall short of getting the recommended amount of vitamin D. According to one study, nearly half of all senior men and one-quarter of all senior women suffer from severe vitamin D deficiency. Like all other vitamins, vitamin D is an organic compound that’s essential for health and wellness. When seniors don’t get enough of it — whether through food or sunlight — it can have severe consequences.

What Is Vitamin D?

Also known as the “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D is a fat-soluble secosteroid that, among other things, is used to metabolize calcium in the body. As you may know, bones consist primarily of collagen and calcium. The former is responsible for creating the soft skeletal structure of bones, whereas the latter is responsible for giving bones their strength.

Our bodies can’t produce calcium, so we must obtain through food sources (see below). With that said, even if a senior consumes a substantial amount of calcium-rich foods, he or she may suffer from weak bones. Vitamin D deficiencies restrict the amount of calcium a senior’s body can absorb. And with less calcium being absorbed, the senior’s bones will become weaker and more frail.

Food sources of vitamin D include the following:

  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Cheese
  • Mushrooms
  • Liver oil
  • Cereal
  • Sour cream
  • Yogurt
  • Orange juice

Bone Health

Because of its relation to calcium, vitamin D plays an important role in bone health. Seniors who suffer from a vitamin D deficiency are more likely to experience bone fractures than their counterparts who get an adequate amount of the sunshine vitamin.

According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), one in four seniors will fall in any given year. For younger adults, fall — those from the same level, at least — are typically harmless. For seniors, however, an otherwise minor fall can lead to broken bones as well as fracture-related complications, including infection. To protect against problems such as these, seniors need vitamin D. Vitamin D allows seniors to absorb more calcium, which their bodies will use to create stronger bones that are more resistant to fracture.

Muscle Strength

In addition to bone health, vitamin D levels can affect a senior’s muscle strength. When a senior’s vitamin D levels decline, so will his or her muscle strength. In turn, seniors who suffer from a vitamin D deficiency may struggle to exercise, which can lead to a plethora of other health problems.

Some people assume that vitamin D is only used to assist with the absorption of calcium. The truth, however, is that it’s used for a variety of metabolic processes, including the formation of mass tissue. When a senior don’t get enough vitamin D, his or her muscle mass will decrease, resulting in weaker muscles.

Cognitive Function

While the jury is still out regarding this topic, some evidence suggests that vitamin D promotes better cognitive function. Researchers believe it provides energy for the brain to carry out its “thoughts.”

Why is this important exactly? Well, dementia is closely linked to poor cognitive function. A study cited by Mayo Clinic even found a link between vitamin D deficiency and dementia in seniors. Seniors who suffered from a vitamin D deficiency were more likely to develop dementia.

Relief From Joint Pain

Vitamin D may even offer seniors relief from joint pain. Whether it occurs in the hands, fingers, wrists or knees, joint pain is often attributed to inflammation. When a joint becomes inflamed, there’s greater internal pressure inside the joint that manifests in the form of pain and limited mobility. Vitamin D, however, is a natural anti-inflammatory, making it useful for seniors who suffer from chronic joint pain.

Vitamin D works to suppress inflammatory-causing chemicals in the body. As these chemicals are suppressed, seniors may experience less-severe joint pain.

Are Vitamin D Supplements Effective for Seniors?

Although there are Vitamin D supplements available for sale, seniors should seek this essential nutrient elsewhere. Numerous studies have shown that vitamin supplements, including vitamin D, offer little benefit because they are poorly absorbed. Taking a vitamin D supplement may have a slight effect on a senior’s vitamin D levels, but it won’t offer adequate protection against deficiency.

Instead of supplements, seniors should get their vitamin D from food and sunlight. It’s referred to as “the sunshine vitamin” because it’s the only vitamin that can be produced by sun exposure. When a senior goes outside to soak up the sun, his or her body will produce vitamin D. Along with previously listed foods, sunlight is an excellent source of vitamin D that can help protect seniors from deficiency.

In Conclusion

Everyone needs vitamin D; it’s an essential nutrient that’s used for metabolic processes in the body. Because of the role it plays in calcium absorption, and therefore bone density, vitamin D is particularly important for seniors. It promotes stronger bones to reduce the risk of fractures while also increasing muscle strength, supporting healthy cognitive function and reducing joint pain.

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