Avoiding the sun? Over-50s at risk of poor bone health due to lack of vitamin D

Just 4.4 per cent of older people in a recent study used vitamin D supplements to overcome the issue. Source: Pexels

While most people know that vitamin D is vital for strong bones and teeth, healthy muscles and improving overall health, it turns out many older people are failing to get their daily recommended dose of the important vitamin and could be putting their health at risk.

In fact, new research has found that 57 per cent of over-50s have inadequate serum vitamin D levels and, of those, 26 per cent were classed as Vitamin D deficient.

Simply put, vitamin D controls calcium levels in the blood that are required for maintaining bone and muscle health. The sun’s ultraviolet radiation acts as the main natural source of vitamin D for most people but because overexposure to sun can cause skin cancer, so it’s not recommended to bathe in the sun for hours each day.

Older people are considered vitamin D deficient if their 25-hydroxyvitamin D blood test reading is 30nmol/L or lower. The test, which measures the level of prehormone calcifediol in a patient’s blood, can be requested from a health professional. Hair loss, tiredness, pain and depression can also be signs of deficiency.

In addition to sunlight, people can increase vitamin D levels by consuming foods such as fish, eggs and mushrooms, while others will require supplementation to achieve healthy levels.

The new study, published in the Nutrients Journal by researchers from the Trinity College Dublin, found that being female, a smoker, older, obese, of non-white ethnicity and reporting poor self-health were the biggest factors in developing Vitamin D deficiency.

Read more: Improving your bone health now could prevent a lot of pain in future

In contrast, being of a healthy weight, retired, engaging in regular vigorous physical activity, spending time in the sun and using vitamin D supplements were protective factors against the condition.

Researchers analysed 6,004 midlife and older adults as part of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. The study, based in the Republic of Ireland, suggested that living in areas with low sunlight could also result in reduced vitamin D levels. It also highlighted the importance of public health strategies throughout midlife and older age to achieve optimal vitamin D status.

“Our study identified factors associated with vitamin D deficiency, including being aged 80+ years, obesity and sedentary lifestyles; all of which are increasing traits in western populations,” researcher Maria O’Sullivan said in a statement. “Furthermore, this is one of the few studies to highlight the importance of non-white ethnicity in vitamin D deficiency in a large study of ageing.”

Researchers found people who took vitamin D supplements were less likely to experience deficiency, but just 4.4 per cent of people used them. While health stores and supermarkets sell them as tablets, capsules, powders and liquids, it’s always important to talk to a GP to ensure the right dose for individual circumstances is taken and to ensure the supplement doesn’t interact with any other medications. Even in cases where supplements are available over-the-counter, it’s important to have a chat with a health professional before taking them.

With use of supplementation so low among people who could benefit the most from using them, researchers conclude that adding vitamin D to diet through food fortification and other strategies need to be considered at policy level to prevent deficiency in the older population.

Read more: Supplements for joint pain: Do they really work?

Do you take vitamin D supplements? Has this improved your overall health and wellbeing?

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