Since the pandemic started, vitamin D has captured attention.
We’ve looked for sources of protection for those we love and increasingly turned to healthy lifestyles and natural foods—and often to vitamin D. At the same time, scientists have rushed to uncover evidence that vitamin D may have a role in helping keep the immune system healthy.
While data is preliminary, even Dr. Fauci is quoted as saying he’s taking vitamin D for his immune system health, pointing out that improving our protection of the immune system also comes from a good night’s sleep and regular exercise. A study published in September 2020 by the University of Chicago reports a deficiency in vitamin D may raise the risk of getting covid.
So just what is Vitamin D? It turns out that vitamin D is really not a vitamin at all, at least not in the way most of us think.
Vitamins are the essential organic substances produced by plants or animals that are not synthesized in the body and therefore must come from food. All vitamins, that is, except vitamin D. This one is actually produced in our bodies.
Sunshine is the key to its production. The sun’s energy turns a chemical in our skin into vitamin D3, which is carried to the liver and then kidneys to transform it to active vitamin D. So get some rays, in moderation (based on your doctor’s guidance), and reap the huge benefits of vitamin D, all naturally at no cost.
But there is an important catch for older adults. As we age, even if we can spend time directly in the sun (and without the blockage effect of sun lotions), our skin has trouble converting ultraviolet light into vitamin D because the chemicals in our skin are reduced. To offset these naturally decreasing levels of vitamin D, we can additionally get vitamin D from a few foods, including fatty fish like salmon and tuna, fish oil, fortified orange juice, milk or cereal, beef liver, mushrooms, and egg yolks. But even when vitamin D is obtained from these few foods, our bodies have to produce it in the liver before it can do us any good. Supplements are an alternative source of vitamin D. (But we have to be sure not to take too much.)
Here are six key benefits older adults get from the amazing vitamin D:
- Boosts energy levels. (1)
- Improves brain function and our mental health, including lifting depression. (2,3)
- Together with calcium, strengthens bones to defend against osteoporosis, so helps prevent falls and hip fractures. (4)
- Helps protects against acute respiratory tract infection. (5)
- Decreases the risk and improves treatment of some cancers including colon and blood cancers. (6)
- Protects oral health. (7)
The University of Chicago cited an important statistic—half of Americans are thought to be deficient in vitamin D, with higher rates seen in older adults as well as other populations including African Americans, Hispanics, and individuals living in areas where it is difficult to get enough sun exposure in winter.
The best course is to check with your doctor. You can take a test to determine your level of vitamin D; then discuss daily intake needs and possible interactions with medications including with heart medications.