6 ways getting enough vitamin D lowers health risks for seniors

Excerpt: Vitamin D deficiency is more common in older adults, especially as the days get darker in winter. Getting enough vitamin D daily through supplements and dietary sources is important for bone health, muscle function and brain activity. Adequate daily vitamin D intake also bolsters immunity and may reduce the risks of type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, autoimmune disease, cancer, and other conditions associated with low vitamin D blood levels.

As the days get darker in winter, the lack of sun exposure and less time spent outdoors increases the risk of vitamin D deficiencies for seniors. As people age, their skin’s ability to make vitamin D when exposed to the sun declines* and older adults don’t absorb vitamin D as efficiently from food, according to the National Institutes of Health.

What is vitamin D deficiency?

Vitamin D deficiency is more common in older adults, poses multiple risks to health and is associated with a higher risk of premature death*, reported a 2022 Annals of Internal Medicine study.

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that helps your body absorb calcium and phosphorus to build and maintain strong bones*, says Harvard School of Public Health. Getting enough sunshine vitamin daily is also important for your overall health because its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and neuroprotective properties* support immune health, muscle function and brain activity, advises Mayo Clinic.

How much vitamin D should seniors get?

Osteoporosis Canada recommends people older adults receive 800 – 2,000 IU (International Units) of vitamin D daily* through routine supplementation. While certain foods such as fatty fish and fortified milk or yogurt are good sources of vitamin D, it’s very difficult for older adults to get enough vitamin D from diet alone

Here are some ways getting sufficient vitamin D daily can improve your health and protect against disease risks:

  1. Bolster immunity. A 2022 Frontiers in Immunology study found that vitamin D3 bolsters the body’s immune defenses against bacteria and viruses*. Our bodies produce vitamin D3 naturally from sunlight and researchers recommend people take a vitamin D3 supplement, or foods fortified with vitamin D3, especially in the winter months.
  2. Prevent and manage type 2 diabetes. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to onset of type 2 diabetes*, according to Biochemistry Journal. A European Journal of Endocrinology study found vitamin D supplementation can improve insulin sensitivity* in patients before or soon after diagnosis with type 2 diabetes.
  3. Protect cognitive health. Vitamin D deficiency was associated with a 54% higher risk of dementia* and researchers estimated that 17% of dementia cases could potentially be prevented by increasing vitamin D to normal levels, according to a 2022 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
  4. Lower risk of autoimmune disease. A 2022 Brigham and Women’s Hospital study reported that older adults who took vitamin D supplements had lower rates of autoimmune diseases* such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and inflammatory bowel disease.
  5. Combat fatigue and tiredness. Low levels of vitamin D are linked to fatigue and depression, and studies show supplements reduce fatigue in people with a deficiency*, according to Healthline.
  6. Reduce cancer risk. Having a low blood level of vitamin D may be linked to a higher risk of developing some cancers*, according to the British Medical Journal. People with a healthy body weight who took a vitamin D supplement of 2,000 IU daily for about 5 years were 38% less likely to develop an advanced cancer* than those who received a placebo, reported a JAMA Network Open study.

*The following sources provide references for this blog, in order of appearance:

  1. National Institutes of Health. "Vitamin D", Online: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-Consumer/
  2. ScienceDaily. "Vitamin D deficiency linked to premature death"(2022), Online: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/10/221026102935.htm
  3. Harvard T.H.Chan. "Vitamin D", Online: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamin-d/
  4. Mayo Clinic. "Vitamin D", Online: https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-vitamin-d/art-20363792
  5. Osteporosis. "Vitamin D", Online: https://osteoporosis.ca/vitamin-d/
  6. healthline. "Researchers Say Vitamin D3 Bolsters Immune System Better Than Vitamin D2", Online: https://www.healthline.com/health-news/researchers-say-vitamin-d3-bolsters-immune-system-better-than-vitamin-d2
  7. National Library of Medicine. "Vitamin D deficiency and diabetes"(2017), Online: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28341729/
  8. Clinical & translational endocrinology from around the globe. "Effects of 6-month vitamin D supplementation on insulin sensitivity and secretion: a randomised, placebo-controlled trial"(2019), Online: https://eje.bioscientifica.com/view/journals/eje/181/3/EJE-19-0156.xml
  9. WebMD. "Dementia Linked to Vitamin D Deficiency, Study Shows"(2022), Online: https://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/news/20220620/dementia-linked-to-vitamin-d-deficiency-study-says
  10. The Harvard Gazette. "Vitamin D supplements lower risk of autoimmune disease, researchers say"(2022), Online: https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2022/01/vitamin-d-reduced-rate-of-autoimmune-diseases-by-22/
  11. healthline. "Vitamin D Deficiency: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments", Online: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vitamin-d-deficiency-symptoms#:~:text=Signs%20and%20symptoms%20of%20vitamin%20D%20deficiency%201,loss%20...%208%20Muscle%20pain%20...%20More%20items
  12. Harvard Health Publishing. "Enough vitamin D may protect against some cancers"(2018), Online: https://www.health.harvard.edu/cancer/enough-vitamin-d-may-protect-against-some-cancers
  13. Harvard Health Publishing. "Vitamin D supplements linked to lower risk of advanced cancer"(2021), Online: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/vitamin-d-supplements-linked-to-lower-risk-of-advanced-cancer