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Vitamin D Deficiency and Seniors
Categories: Medical Issues, Prevention, Senior Care Tips | Posted: 6/16/2014 | Views: 4409

 “Go outside and get some sun!” How many times have we heard this as children? It turns out that there is a great deal of wisdom to this statement! Vitamin D deficiency has become, according to some, a world-wide pandemic. There are estimates that more than 50% of elderly people are seriously deficient of this important nutrient.

Despite access to more food than ever before in history, this vitamin deficiency is on the rise. While you can get Vitamin D from diet, our bodies are actually designed to get most of our D from the sun. How does this work? Our bodies convert sunlight hitting our skin into Vitamin D that our bodies need. Very few foods supply an adequate source for this important nutrient.

Why Vitamin D is important?

Vitamin D helps our bodies prevent heart disease, cancer, and infections. It reduces inflammation in our bodies and autoimmune disease. A deficiency of Vitamin D increases our risks of cancer, heart disease, hip fractures, and our overall mortality rate. New research by the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center shows that a Vitamin D deficiency can also increase cognitive decline in elderly patients.

Vitamin D helps us process calcium as well – so that is one reason it is involved in preventing hip fractures. But, it also helps with our muscle tone and balance – meaning that a vitamin D deficiency not only increases our bone brittleness, but may make it more likely that we will fall.

Who is at Risk for a Vitamin D Deficiency?

For many today, we try to limit our exposure to sun and use sunscreen to prevent skin cancer. However, this limits the amount of sunlight that can be converted to this vital nutrient. Those who live in the northern hemisphere are more likely to be deficient – and are more likely to be deficient in the winter months.

People with certain disorders and those taking certain medications are also more likely to be low in Vitamin D. This would include people with chronic kidney disease, lymphoma, obesity, celiac or Crohn’s disease, and those who have had bariatric surgery. Medications like cortisone and other glucocortisoids can also limit the production of Vitamin D in the body.

The elderly population is more susceptible than many groups because as we age, our bodies become less efficient at turning sunlight into Vitamin D – in part because our skin becomes more thin and less effective in processing the sunlight. And, this population is more likely to have certain diseases or take certain medications listed above that can interfere with the process of turning sunlight into D. Older people are also more likely to be “shut-ins” not venturing outside as often. And what can be obtained through diet is often limited because as we age, we tend to eat less overall.

Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency

Many people will not experience any symptoms at all.  And the symptoms, if you do get any, are vague.  They include a general feeling of being tired, aches and pains, bone pain, muscle pain, a sensation of "heaviness" in your legs, difficulty getting out of a chair or going up stairs.  Most people are not aware of this problem until they get a blood test.

Treatment and Prevention

Only your doctor should recommend a course of action for a Vitamin D deficiency. The first thing to do if you suspect this is to see your physician and get a simple blood test to determine your levels of Vitamin D. While you can buy Vitamin D supplements over the counter, the amount taken varies considerably with age, overall health, other conditions, etc. and can become toxic if too much is taken. The treatment is typically a doctor-prescribed dosage of Vitamin D and Calcium supplements. Sometimes, a doctor will also examine your thyroid to see if its functioning is related to your Vitamin D deficiency symptoms.

For preventing a deficiency, you can eat foods rich in Vitamin D such as fortified milk, eggs, liver, and fatty fish like salmon. And many people will benefit from at least 10-15 minutes of sunbathing a few times per week.


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