All About Aging: Are You Vitamin-D Deficient?

Sunday, 5 May 2013, 8:53:00 AM

Dr. James Davis

Dr. James Davis is a board-certified geriatrician with the highly regarded UCLA Geriatrics Program in Santa Monica and Westwood.
Courtesy Photo
Dr. James Davis is a board-certified geriatrician with the highly regarded UCLA Geriatrics Program in Santa Monica and Westwood.

Rickets used to be a fairly common childhood disease due

to vitamin-D deficiency and lack of sunlight exposure. It led to bone

deformity, including bowed legs that are seen in some older people today. 

Fortifying milk and other foods with vitamin D, along

with increased public health awareness, greatly reduced the incidence of

rickets but vitamin-D deficiency remains a problem – especially in the

elderly. 

Lack of vitamin D affects bone metabolism leading to

osteoporosis, muscle weakness and increased risk of fracture. Conversely, proper amounts of vitamin D may

decrease the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and infection.

Vitamin-D deficiency is very common in older

adults. 

For several years now, I have been checking vitamin D

levels in my patients. More than half have some degree of insufficiency and

many are severely deficient. I am amazed

by how often patients who appear relatively healthy and seem to eat a balanced

diet are affected. 

One problem is that older people often don’t eat the

same foods as when they were younger. Fortified milk, margarine, cereal, and

eggs, which are great sources of vitamin D for young people, are often missing

from my older patients’ diets. 

The best natural dietary sources of vitamin D come from

fresh salmon (preferably wild caught) but canned fish, including salmon, tuna,

mackerel and sardines, are also rich in vitamin D. 

Dried shitake mushrooms are another great source but are

usually not diet staples. 

Exposure to sunlight increases skin synthesis of vitamin

D. 

A sensible amount of sun exposure to the arms and legs

would be five to 30 minutes at least three days per week. That’s enough to get

the benefit while avoiding skin damage from too much exposure.

Because many of my patients’ diets are deficient in

vitamin D, I recommend a vitamin D supplement often in combination with

calcium. For most people, 800 to 1000 units per day from supplements and

dietary sources will suffice. For those with severe deficiency, I order a

prescription dose of vitamin D for several months along with a supplement to be

continued indefinitely.

If you think you may be vitamin-D deficient – many

people are – check with your doctor about getting a blood test or start taking

a supplement and spend a little more time outdoors in the sun. But don’t forget the sunscreen!

Dr. James Davis is

a board-certified geriatrician with the highly ranked UCLA Geriatrics Program

in Santa Monica and Westwood. For more information, visit www.uclahealth.org or

call 310.319.4371.

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