What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a member of the family of fat-soluble vitamins, which also includes vitamins A, E and K. Vitamin D is found in a limited number of foods, and is produced in the human body in response to sunlight, so it also called the "sun vitamin".
The importance of vitamin D for the older population
Vitamin D plays a key role in maintaining the structure and strength of bones, teeth and muscles. Vitamin D promotes the absorption of calcium, which is a critical mineral for bone health and strength. In fact, without vitamin D our body can lose bone mass, which can lead to bone pains, fractures, and muscle weakness. In addition, research has shown that vitamin D also plays an important role in the proper functioning of the immune system, with all the implications of a weak immune system in states of vitamin D deficiency.
Despite the sun: Vitamin D
Even in sunny countries, studies show that vitamin D deficiency is a long-standing and common public health problem in all age groups around the world. The reasons for the vitamin D deficiency that has been observed are varied, and include insufficient intake of foods containing vitamin D (such as fish and fortified dairy products), limited exposure to sunshine, and a decrease in the skin's ability to produce the vitamin due to use of sunscreen.
Why is vitamin D deficiency more common among the elderly?
In general, the human body cannot produce vitamins, and certainly not minerals, so it needs to acquire them externally through food. However, it is worth knowing that as we get older, our body is less able to get the most out of the food we eat and other external sources such as the sun. The needs of the body change, and do does the dose of vitamins that must be provided.
In older people, the chance of vitamin D deficiency increases, for various reasons, such as:
- Decreased nutritional intake
- Poor intestinal absorption
- Less exposure to sunlight (sitting at home)
Apart from the elderly population, vitamin D deficiency is also common among young people who work in enclosed places, and in certain populations that customarily cover most of their bodies. People who are obese are also at risk of vitamin D deficiency, as it tends to accumulate in adipose tissue rather than spreading through the body via the bloodstream.
What does vitamin D deficiency mean for the elderly?
Vitamin D deficiency can lead to an increased risk of fractures (due to depletion of bone density), and to pains and muscle weakness. So, for example, it has been found that many of those who suffered from a hip fracture had a significant deficiency in vitamin D. In addition, various studies show that giving vitamin D to the elderly, in a dose of 800 international units (IU), with or without calcium, reduces the risk of falls by 50% - 72% by comparison with their peers receiving a placebo*. Vitamin D deficiency has also been found to impair cognitive function, especially in the elderly, and some studies have found that vitamin D deficiency could be associated with shortened life expectancy**. It has been found that vitamin D deficiency is also associated with poor mood and blood sugar imbalance among the elderly.
So how do you acquire vitamin D?
In fact, especially in old age, it is not possible to reach normal levels of vitamin D without sufficient exposure to the sun and/or taking a dietary supplement. Taking vitamin D as a dietary supplement makes it possible to maintain its level in the blood and prevent the incidence of deficiency.
Which vitamin D should you take?
Vitamin D comes in two forms: one - vitamin D in inactive form in the body, called vitamin D2, and the other, vitamin D in active form, called vitamin D3. The active form - vitamin D3 - is absorbed in the intestine by bile acids secreted in response to eating fatty foods, so it is usually recommended to take vitamin D together with foods that contain fats.
At the same time, it is important to know that today there are vitamin D3 supplements available on the market that contain the natural fatty acid MCT, which significantly improves its availability. So thanks to the fatty acids you can take vitamin D at any time, without the need to tie it to fatty foods - in a very convenient and accessible way.
What is the recommended dose of vitamin D for the elderly?
Recently, the Ministry of Health issued a clear recommendation to take vitamin D in a dose of 800-1000 IU per day.
Public recommendations issued yesterday (October 12) by the Ministry of Health state that vitamin D is essential for strengthening the immune system, and that in epidemiological observations, a deficiency in vitamin D has been linked to a negative effect on respiratory infections and morbidity. The recommendations also note that a normal level of vitamin D was found to be associated with a reduction in infection and morbidity due to Covid-19.
Therefore, the Ministry of Health recommends taking the following levels of vitamin D on a daily basis during this period:
- Daily intake of 800 - 1000 IU of vitamin D for people of normal weight
- Daily intake of 2000 IU vitamin D for overweight people
- Daily intake of 4000 IU vitamin D for obese people
Vitamin D is available on the market in various forms, in drops or in very small soft gel capsules that are easy to swallow, so that everyone can find a method that suits them.