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Forever Young: Vitamin D and Your Health

Posted 3/22/2016 by UHBlog

Need to know if you’re getting enough vitamin D? See us.

Forever Young: Vitamin D and Your Health

More than a billion people may be vitamin D deficient. For seniors, that's especially worrisome, says family medicine specialist Gabrielle Koczab, DO.

“Seniors need vitamin D in order to optimally absorb calcium,” she says. “Calcium ensures that your bones remain strong and helps to prevent osteoporosis.”

Older adults who are deficient in vitamin D face:

  • Loss of muscles
  • Shrinking bone mass
  • Reduced strength
  • Increased risk of hip fractures due to falls

According to Dr. Koczab, if you fall, you risk becoming disabled, suffering functional decline and harming your quality of life. Any of these, she says, may cause you to feel depressed, helpless and isolated.

“When you’re older, you’re not going to recover nearly as quickly from a fall,” she says. “Older people might need six weeks or more to mend from a fracture or broken bone. When you’re immobilized that long, it can lead to further atrophy of the muscles. You risk developing blood clots and a whole host of complications. It’s a situation you want to avoid.”

Besides bone health, vitamin D has other benefits, too, and can help your body feel young by:

  • Strengthening your immune system to make you less prone to illnesses and infections
  • Boosting your cardiovascular system to control blood pressure and help the heart perform better
  • Reducing your risk of some forms of cancers, such as those affecting the breasts, colon, esophagus and prostate
  • Preventing some diseases, including multiple sclerosis
  • Relieving muscle and bone aches significantly

The three ways you get vitamin D are through your skin, in your diet and from supplements. For seniors, the recommended daily amount of vitamin D is 1,000 international units (IU). If you’re already using a vitamin D supplement, make sure you’re getting the right amount. Most people aren’t, Dr. Koczab says.

“It gets more difficult to absorb vitamin D as you get older,” she says. The reasons can include:

  • Medications that inhibit your ability to process vitamin D; for instance, certain seizure medicines like Dilantin
  • The inability to properly absorb vitamin D because of bowel cancer, inflammatory bowel disease or celiac disease
  • Obesity, which can lower the amount of vitamin D in your body
  • Less time spent in the sun, which helps your body naturally produce vitamin D, or using potent sunscreen that blocks the amount of sun you get
  • Reduced consumption of milk and other foods known to be vitamin D-rich
  • Your skin tone, especially if you’re dark skinned

The only way to know if you're getting enough vitamin D is through a blood test.

“I routinely do a vitamin D blood level check on patients when they get their blood work done,” she says. “Everyone should get this done.”

Gabrielle Koczab, DO is a family medicine specialist at University Hospitals Bedford Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Dr. Koczab or any other University Hospitals doctor online.

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