Vitamin D, also referred to as calciferol, is a fat-soluble vitamin that is present in a few foods, is added to others, can be taken as a dietary supplement, and is produced endogenously when ultraviolet rays from sunlight reach the skin and trigger vitamin D synthesis. While many people associate a lack of vitamin D with conditions like seasonal affective disorder or rickets, few know the benefits of vitamin D for healthy aging!
NEUROLOGICAL HEALTH: In one literature review, the authors reported vitamin D supplementation improved muscle strength and balance in older adults utilizing daily doses of 800 IU or more. Similarly, another group of authors performed a systematic review and meta-analysis and found vitamin D treatment effectively reduced the risk of falls in older adults with doses between 200-1000 IUs.
BONE HEALTH: Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption in the gut and maintains adequate blood levels of calcium and phosphate concentrations to enable normal bone mineralization, and it is needed for bone growth and remodeling. Without it, bones become thin, brittle, and/or misshapen. When taken together, calcium and vitamin D help prevent osteoporosis in older adults.
ANTI-INFLAMMATORY: Vitamin D reduces systemic inflammation, which may help prevent many diseases, including cardiovascular disease and some cancers.
EXERCISE: A systematic review that included ten studies concluded that vitamin D at a minimum dose of 2000 IU per day for more than seven days is an efficacious approach to attenuate muscle damage and inflammation after exercise.
BACK PAIN: One systematic review reported strong evidence on the causal relationship between lower vitamin D and increased low back pain incidence. They also observed that individuals with genetic predisposition for higher vitamin D serum levels were less likely to develop low back pain. The authors concluded that providers may consider recommending vitamin D for low back pain treatment and prevention reasons. Healthy vitamin D levels are also linked to a lower risk for muscle cramps and spasms.
Unfortunately, only about 15% of older adults in the United States have healthy vitamin D status and 42% have severely deficient vitamin D levels. In a 2023 study, researchers concluded that in order to attain optimal vitamin D levels through sun exposure alone, it’s recommended to spend at least five to ten minutes outdoors on most days during the summertime with at least 35% of the body exposed to the sun. However, during the winter when just 10% of the body may be exposed to the sun, an individual may need to spend up to 45 minutes outdoors during midday on a daily basis. Of note, those living in higher latitudes or with a darker complexion may require more time in the sun to create sufficient vitamin D. If consistently spending some time (or enough time) in the sun each day isn’t feasible, talk with your healthcare provider regarding recommendations on vitamin D supplementation and/or vitamin D-rich foods to add to your diet.