What Essential Vitamin Can Lower Your Risk of Dying as You Age (Especially as You Approach 65 and Beyond)?
© 2015 Health Realizations, Inc. Update
Vitamin D, the "sunshine vitamin" your body produces after sufficient exposure to sunlight, has been making headlines recently for its newly revealed role in disease prevention among old and young alike. Now, a new study has found yet another reason why ensuring you’re getting enough of this crucial vitamin should be at the top of your to-do list, especially if you’re in your 60s and beyond.
People over 65 with insufficient levels of vitamin D are three times more likely to die from heart disease, and 2.5 times more likely to die from any cause, than those with optimal levels.
Researchers at the University of Colorado Denver and Massachusetts General Hospital evaluated the association between vitamin D levels and death rates of those 65 and older and found the vitamin plays a vital role in reducing risk of death associated with older age.
Specifically, older adults with insufficient levels of vitamin D are more likely to die from heart disease and other causes than those with adequate levels. Those with low vitamin D levels were three times more likely to die from heart disease -- and 2.5 times more likely to die from any cause -- than those with optimal vitamin D.
"It's likely that more than one-third of older adults now have vitamin D levels associated with higher risks of death and few have levels associated with optimum survival," Adit Ginde, MD, MPH, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine's Division of Emergency Medicine and lead author of the study, told ScienceDaily. "Given the aging population and the simplicity of increasing a person's level of vitamin D, a small improvement in death rates could have a substantial impact on public health."
Why is Vitamin D Essential for Your Good Health?
Vitamin D, which is actually not a vitamin but a secosteroid hormone, targets over 2,000 genes in your body; this is about 10 percent of the entire human genome! According to the Vitamin D Council:
"Current research has implicated vitamin D deficiency as a major factor in the pathology of at least 17 varieties of cancer as well as heart disease, stroke, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, depression, chronic pain, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, muscle wasting, birth defects, periodontal disease, and more."
When you go out in the sun in your bathing suit, your body produces between 10,000 and 50,000 units of cholecalciferol in your skin by the time it begins to turn a light pink.
However, because many people no longer spend much time in the sun without sunblock (sunblock blocks vitamin D production) vitamin D deficiency is thought to be very widespread. The elderly are especially at risk of deficiency because of:
Have You Heard of Vitamin D Deficiency Syndrome?
The Vitamin D Council has proposed that Vitamin D Deficiency Syndrome (VDDS) exists when 25(OH)D [vitamin D] levels of less than 25 ng/mL are found in people with two or more of the following conditions: osteoporosis, heart disease, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, certain cancers, depression, chronic fatigue, or chronic pain.
These are all illnesses that are associated with vitamin D deficiency.
VDDS is more common among dark skinned races, the elderly, and those who avoid the sun.
As Fall and Winter Approach Enhance Your Body’s Absorption of Vitamin D
Vitamin D is meant to be made in your skin after sun exposure, and is not typically well absorbed in supplement form. But because many people do not have access to sunshine year-round, supplementation is often necessary to keep your vitamin D levels in the optimal range.
Digestive enzymes are important to helps you break down food groups and maximize nutrient absorption, so your body is able to better absorb vitamin D in supplement form.
How Much Vitamin D is Optimal?
The Recommended Daily Allowance for vitamin D is 200 IU a day for adults up to 50, 400 IU for those 51-70, and 600 IU for those 71 and over. However, many health experts say that amount is far too low.
"The skin produces approximately 10,000 IU vitamin D in response 20–30 minutes summer sun exposure -- 50 times more than the US government's recommendation of 200 IU per day [for adults]!" states the Vitamin D Council. They continue:
"If well adults and adolescents regularly avoid sunlight exposure, research indicates a necessity to supplement with at least 5,000 units (IU) of vitamin D daily."
Vitamin D experts now believe the minimal acceptable level for vitamin D is 50 ng/ml. The Vitamin D Council explains:
"They [vitamin D researchers] found that the body does not reliably begin storing cholecalciferol in fat and muscle tissue until 25(OH)D levels get above 50 ng/ml. The average person starts to store cholecalciferol at 40 ng/ml, but at 50 ng/ml virtually everyone begins to store it for future use. That is, at levels below 50 ng/ml, the body uses up vitamin D as fast as you can make it, or take it, indicating chronic substrate starvation -- not a good thing. 25(OH)D levels should be between 50–80 ng/ml, year-round."
A blood test from your doctor, called the 25-hydroxyvitamin D, can determine whether your vitamin D levels are high enough.
If You Take a Vitamin D Supplement, Make Sure It’s Being Absorbed
Sun exposure is the best form of vitamin D, but if you cannot get out in the sun regularly, experts recommend supplementing with a vitamin D3 supplement, which is the same natural vitamin D your body makes when exposed to the sun. Avoid vitamin D2, which is synthetic and may be less safe and less effective.
Along with regularly testing your blood levels of vitamin D to make sure you’re in the optimal range – not too high or too low – you should make sure your body has the best chances of absorbing the vitamin D.
Sometimes supplementing therapeutic amounts of vitamin D can create a greater need for the fat-soluble vitamins A, E, and K. Vitamin D Complex is thus, helpful for supporting those with malabsorption issues and in conditions where it is difficult to absorb fat-soluble vitamins, such as cystic fibrosis, celiac disease, ulcerative colitis, pancreatic insufficiency.
As fall and winter approach in the United States, now is an important time to look into the status of your vitamin D levels, whether you’re 25, 55, or 85. As Dr. Ginde told ScienceDaily:
"Vitamin D has health effects that go beyond strong bones. It's likely that it makes a vital contribution to good health."
Journal of the American Geriatrics Society
Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin D
The Vitamin D Council