With less daylight, it's important to find additional sources of vitamin D.
When your body is exposed to sunlight, it produces vitamin D—hence the nickname "sunshine vitamin." As winter approaches and the days get shorter and chillier, people tend to spend more time indoors and cover up when they do go outside. The lack of sun may cause your levels to dip, and could even lead to a deficiency.
But you're in luck—even when skies are gray, there are plenty of ways to get this essential vitamin.
Vitamin D is important for everyone, but it can play an especially critical role for seniors. It's been shown to help prevent osteoporosis, and although more research is needed, some studies suggest that getting an ample supply might help reduce the risk of common age-related health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and cognitive decline. As people age, it becomes more difficult for the body to absorb some vitamins, D included. When you combine that fact with the changing seasons, it's no surprise that many seniors aren't getting enough of the sunshine vitamin.
The only way to know for sure if your levels are too low is to ask your doctor for a simple blood test. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force explains that not everyone needs routine testing, but it might be a good idea to get checked if you have osteoporosis since your body needs this vitamin to absorb calcium. Your doctor may also want to test you if you take medication like an anticonvulsant or steroid drug that can interfere with vitamin D in the body.
If your doctor tells you that you're deficient, there are a few things you can do. While spending more time in the sun might seem like an easy fix, it's not necessarily the best option. Too much exposure to UV rays, including those that come from tanning beds, can put you at risk for skin cancer, and in much of the U.S., the winter months are too cold to spend much time outside without bundling up.
Especially in the winter, one of the best ways to get enough of this essential vitamin is through a healthy diet. While it doesn't occur naturally in many foods, fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel are good sources, and though it may not be the most popular item, cod liver oil is an excellent source as well.
Small amounts can also be found in egg yolks and mushrooms and foods fortified with Vitamin D like bread, milk, and some brands of orange juice.
If your doctor does recommend a supplement, be sure to ask about the dosage. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adults 70 years and younger is 600 IU per day and 800 IU per day for those older than 70. Experts don't always agree on the ideal amount, but your doctor or Rite Aid Pharmacist can advise you on what's best.
If your levels are low, you may need a larger dose at first, but it's important to avoid taking too much. Excess vitamin D can cause side effects like nausea, vomiting, and dangerous calcium buildup in the bloodstream.
Stop by your local Rite Aid today to speak with your Pharmacist and learn more about the options available to you.
by Barbara Brody
Harvard Health Publishing, Vitamin D Testing Not Recommended for Most People
The Journal of Aging and Gerontology, The Role of Vitamin D in the Aging Adult
Mayo Clinic, Vitamin D
National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, Vitamin D
National Osteoporosis Foundation, Calcium/Vitamin D
Skin Cancer Foundation, Sun Protection and Vitamin D
These articles are not a substitute for medical advice, and are not intended to treat or cure any disease. Advances in medicine may cause this information to become outdated, invalid, or subject to debate. Professional opinions and interpretations of scientific literature may vary. Consult your healthcare professional before making changes to your diet, exercise, or medication regime.