Vitamin D: It’s Good for More Than Just Your BonesPosted by Medicare Made Clear
Vitamin D, or the “sunshine vitamin,” is not really a vitamin at all. It’s part of a hormone called “calcitriol” that is produced in the skin after exposure to direct sunlight. Calcitriol works with other nutrients and hormones in your body to help build bones and keep them healthy. It also maintains hormonal balance and regulates the immune system.
Healthy levels of vitamin D helps:
- Protect against osteoporosis, especially in post-menopausal women.
- Maintain a healthy weight. People who are vitamin D deficient often weigh more and have more body fat than people with healthy vitamin D levels.
- Protect against some cancers, particularly breast cancer, prostate cancer and colorectal cancer.
- Regulate mood. Healthy levels of vitamin D may counteract the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during the winter months when sunshine is in short supply.
Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D deficiency is a common problem resulting from inadequate exposure to direct sunlight, poor dietary intake and/or chronic kidney disease. Deficiency impairs bone mineralization, causing rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. Osteomalacia (softening of the bones) often leads to fractures. In older adults, hip fractures may result from only minimal trauma.
Vitamin D deficiency may also cause muscle pain, weak bones and fractures, low energy and fatigue, lowered immunity, depression, and sleep problems.
Who’s Most at Risk?
Vitamin D deficiency is common among older adults because the skin is thinner, making it harder to produce vitamin D. Older adults, particularly those who are housebound or hospitalized, are also at risk. Other groups that face higher risk include people:
- Who don’t get enough sunlight
- Who don’t take supplements
- With darker skin
- Who spend a lot of time indoors during the day
- Who wear a lot of sunscreen
- That live in the North of the United States or Canada
- Who are very overweight
Signs of Severe Deficiency or Osteomalacia
Mild or moderate deficiency may be hard to detect. However, once osteomalacia sets in, a person may start to experience muscle weakness, bone fractures without a real injury, or widespread bone pain, especially in the hips. If this happens, a doctor may run a battery of tests, like blood tests, x-rays, or bone density scans.
Currently, the “optimal” range for the proper level of vitamin D is (25-80 ng/mL). If you’ve been tested and your levels fall below this range, there are things you can do to help increase the production of vitamin D in your body. For most people, the best way to replenish reserves is by taking a vitamin D3 supplement. However, there is scientific debate about how much vitamin D people need each day, and the range is wide — anywhere from 400 IU to 4,000 IU per day. To be safe, see your doctor to determine the proper amount for you.
Watch this video to hear Peter explain how to get sufficient vitamin D.
You may also want to try eating foods rich in vitamin D, like fatty fish (mackerel and sardines), egg yolks, fortified organic milk and other dairy products.
The only way to know for sure if you’re getting enough vitamin D is by getting tested. If you’re concerned you may not be getting enough vitamin D, talk to your doctor about having your levels tested. If you’ve already been tested and want to know what your results mean, see these test results or talk to your doctor at your next appointment or annual Medicare Wellness Visit.
For more information, explore MedicareMadeClear.com or contact the Medicare helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY 1-877-486-2048.
Osteomalacia: National Institutes of Health
Vitamin D and Health: Harvard School of Public Health
Am I Deficient in Vitamin D?: Vitamin D Council