Getting Enough Vitamin D in Later Life
Ask the Expert
James Judge, MD
Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of Connecticut Health Center
Senior Medical Director, Optum, Connecticut
Q: Why is it important for older adults to get enough vitamin D?
A: Vitamin D plays key roles in your health. It helps your body absorb and use calcium, a mineral you need to keep your bones strong. If you don’t continue to get enough vitamin D and calcium in later life, your bones can get thinner and weaker and can break or fracture more easily.
Regular physical activity and exercise are the most important ways to keep your muscles strong so you can stay active and continue all your daily activities. In addition to exercise, vitamin D also plays an important role in keeping your muscles strong. When your muscles are stronger, you’re less likely to fall and have a bone fracture.
Q: How can you get vitamin D?
A: You can get vitamin D in different ways.
Vitamin D is called the “sunlight vitamin” because your skin can make the vitamin if it’s exposed to the sun. But as you get older, your skin’s ability to produce vitamin D declines, while the risk of skin cancer from sun exposure continues.
Except for fatty fish such as swordfish, salmon, and mackerel, there aren’t many foods that are naturally rich in vitamin D. You can get vitamin D from milk, yogurt, cereals, and juices that have been fortified with vitamin D. That means that vitamin D is added to these foods and drinks. If a food is fortified with vitamin D the label will say that.
You can also get vitamin D from vitamin supplements.
Q: How much vitamin D do adults who are 65 and older need?
A: The American Geriatrics Society recently brought together a work group of expert researchers and physicians to answer that and related questions. The group carefully reviewed up-to-date, high-quality research about the vitamin-D needs of people 65 and older.
Based on their findings, the work group recommends that healthcare providers tell their older patients to take at least 1,000 International (IU) units of vitamin D daily—along with calcium supplements—to lower their risks of fractures.
The work group also noted that older adults can safely get an average of 4,000 IU/day from all sources— sunlight, foods, fortified foods and drinks, and supplements—daily. This is the maximum daily intake that is recommended. This higher intake of vitamin D is a safe way to ensure that older adults have vitamin D levels that can lower their risk of fall-related injuries.
Updated: December 2013
Posted: December 2013