Vitamin D to the Rescue

Vitamin D to the Rescue

Vitamin D helps our body absorb calcium for strong bones, fight diseases, and allows for proper nerve function. Low vitamin D levels has been associated with balance problems, impaired feet function, high fall rates, low bone mineral density and muscle weakness among the elderly.

As we age, our bodies no longer synthesise vitamin D from sunlight like we used to, leading to an increased risk of vitamin D deficiency. Our kidneys are also less able to activate vitamin D for our body’s use.

Dr Nur Farhan Abbass, Specialist in Geriatrics and Consultant, Raffles Internal Medicine Centre shares from her experience: “It is difficult to recommend a specific duration of sun exposure for everyone. The production of vitamin D depends on many factors. Many of our elderly are homebound and do not engage in outdoor exercises or activities. Incorporating outdoor activities for at least 30 minutes a day is good for exercise and balance. In addition, it includes sun exposure which allows the skin to produce vitamin D.”

Dr Farhan added, “The elderly may not have the appetite (or teeth) to eat well. This often leads to poor nutrition. As such, their intake of vitamin D is often less than desirable.”

Where to get vitamin D

The importance of vitamin D cannot be ignored. Yet, this precious vitamin is not common in many foods. Here are some where you can find vitamin D.

  • Food: cod liver oil, salmon, mackerel, tuna, beef liver, cheese and egg yolks
  • Vitamin D fortified foods: milk, breakfast cereals, and juice drinks
  • Sunlight: Sunlight converts cholesterol to vitamin D in the body
  • Vitamin D supplements: Only one in three persons get enough vitamin D in their diet (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2006). If you think you are not consuming or producing enough vitamin D, do consider eating supplements

Studies have shown that vitamin D supplements are useful in preventing falls and fractures. Dr Nur Farhan recommends that elderly above the age of 65 years old consume 1,000 IU of vitamin D from all sources daily. “For elderly who are frail and at risk of falls, they may need to take up to 4,000 IU of vitamin D from all sources.”

More is not necessarily best

Contrary to popular belief, taking too much vitamin D is not good. Just as you can get vitamin D deficiency, you can similarly get vitamin D overdose which may lead to an increased risk in fractures and other health conditions. Speak to your doctor before starting on supplements to ensure you are taking the right amount of vitamin D as your necessary intake will depend on your gender, age, weight, diet, sun exposure and medical history.

Health supplements every elderly can consider

You would not need any additional health supplements if you are eating well-balanced diets daily, exercise regularly and leading a healthy lifestyle. Consider these supplements below for a healthier you.

1.Multivitamins

This can help supplement poor nutrition especially for elderly who have problems consuming well-balanced diets.

2. Vitamin B12

2.4 mcg (micrograms) each day

This vitamin keeps our blood and nerves healthy. One in three elderly can no longer absorb natural vitamin B12 from their food.

3. Calcium

1200 mg (milligrams), but not more than 2500 mg a day

Vitamin D keeps our bones strong. Bone loss can lead to fractures, mainly of the hip, spine, or wrist, in both older women and men.

4. Vitamin D

400 IU for ages 51 to 65 and 1000 IU for those over 65

Vitamin D helps our body build strong bones and fight diseases. It is needed for nerve function.

5. Iron

8 mg of iron a day

Iron keeps our red blood cells healthy. Postmenopausal women on hormone replacement therapy may need extra iron.

6. Vitamin B6

1.7 mg for men and 1.5 mg for women daily

Vitamin B6 is needed for forming red blood cells and to keep overall health.