We all know vitamin D is vital to health. But getting adequate doses of the “sunshine vitamin” can become more difficult as we age. That’s partly because age can diminish the skin’s ability to synthesize vitamin D from sunlight. And since the nutrient isn’t found naturally in many foods, it can be difficult to get sufficient amounts through diet. So what can seniors do to make sure they’re getting enough of this essential micronutrient? Here are some suggestions for getting healthy doses of vitamin D — and the reasons it matters.

Are You Getting Enough Vitamin D?

The easiest way to get vitamin D is through sun exposure. The sun’s Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays interact with the 7-DHC, a protein in the skin, to create D3, the active form of vitamin D. However, several factors can prevent us from getting enough vitamin D from the sun:

  • Many of us don’t spend enough time outdoors to get adequate vitamin D. We need 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure a few times a week to produce the vitamin D we need.
  • The use of sunscreen — an important step in the prevention of skin cancer — can inhibit UVB absorption.
  • Living at latitudes above 37 degrees North limits sun exposure, especially during the winter months, when there’s little opportunity to synthesize vitamin D from the sun.
  • Pollution and cloud cover can decrease the amount of UVB that reaches the skin.

Boost Your Vitamin D Levels

Because it can be difficult to get adequate amounts of vitamin D through sun exposure, it’s a good idea to incorporate vitamin D-rich foods into your diet. Although guidelines for vitamin D intake vary, the National Institutes of Health recommends that adults ages 51 to 70 get 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D, while adults over age 70 increase their vitamin D intake to 800 IU daily.

  • Good sources of vitamin D include:
  • 3 ounces of farmed rainbow trout (645 IU)
  • 3 ounces of sockeye salmon (570 IU)
  • ½ cup of raw, white mushrooms (366 IU)
  • 1 large scrambled egg — remember vitamin D is in the yolk (44 IU)
  • 1 serving of fortified cereal (80 IU)
  • 1 cup of 2% fortified milk (120 IU)
  • 1 tablespoon of cod liver oil (1,360 IU)
  • 3 ounces of tuna fish, canned in water (40 IU)

You can also take supplements to boost your vitamin D levels. Keep in mind, however, that with vitamin D, it’s possible to get too much of a good thing, so it’s wise to talk to your doctor before you start taking supplements. A simple blood test can determine if you have a vitamin D deficiency.

An Indispensable Role in Health

Researchers continue to discover new links between vitamin D levels and health. Low levels of vitamin D are associated with a greater risk of depression and anxiety. And recent findings also suggest vitamin D may help with:

  • Immune function. Low levels of vitamin D are linked to increased risk of autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis. Studies also confirm that vitamin D can protect against respiratory ailments such as cold and flu.
  • Cancer prevention. Studies link vitamin D deficiency to many types of tumors, and suggest that adequate levels of vitamin D can inhibit the spread of tumors.
  • Oral health. Research connects vitamin D deficiency with an increased likelihood of cavities, tooth defects and gum infection.
  • Reduced risk of falls and fractures. Vitamin D may improve muscle strength, which can reduce the likelihood of falls in older adults. A combination of vitamin D supplements and calcium is associated with decreased risk of bone fractures.

The Sunny Side of Life

Want to make your retirement years brighter? Eagle Senior Living offers warm, welcoming communities  in which our residents thrive. We have locations in seven states offering various residential options, including  Independent Living, Assisted Living and Memory Care. Contact us to find out more about how we support seniors in living enriching, empowered lives.