Tribune Print Share Text

Is vitamin D good for me?

Created date

May 12th, 2013
Foods rich in vitamin D include meat, cheese, salmon and eggs

Vitamin D is critically important to bone health and healthy aging, yet many Americans are vitamin D deficient. Estimates from a number of studies demonstrate that up to 50% of seniors have inadequate levels of this vitamin, which is so important to our bones as well as our muscle strength and balance.

Seniors are at a higher risk of having insufficient amounts of vitamin D because of the unique characteristics of this vitamin’s metabolism. Remarkably enough, vitamin D is either made in the skin with sun exposure or ingested in the foods we eat. Once present in the bloodstream, it then has to be processed by the liver and kidneys to achieve full effectiveness. As we age, our skin and kidneys in particular undergo changes which tend to make the process less effective and we become more reliant on dietary sources or supplements.

Given the recent cautions of the U.S. Preventive Task Force (USPTF) about using calcium supplements to prevent fractures (see last month’s “Living well”), how should we think about vitamin D supplements? Studies show that taking vitamin D supplements of 800 IU a day prevents falls in community-dwelling seniors. This is a high value benefit since up to one-third of adults over age 65 falls each year, and falls are the leading cause of injury deaths among seniors. Because of this finding, the USPTF recommends 800 IU of vitamin D daily for individuals over the age of 65. Fortunately, this amount of vitamin D is generally safe and, unlike calcium supplements, has not been found to be associated with increased heart disease or mortality.

Getting the right amount

While vitamin D is certainly found in foods, it can be very challenging to achieve 800 IU a day without a supplement. Other than salmon, which has 400 – 800 IU in a 3-ounce serving, foods like milk, tuna, and yogurt only have about 100 IU per serving. Vitamin D is available in many supplements, so it is important to discuss with your doctor which one and how much is best for you.

Your medical provider may also recommend measuring your vitamin D level to determine if you are deficient or to help get your supplemental dose just right. Doses higher than 800 IU are needed in some individuals and measuring a level can help guide treatment. Always remember, though, that vitamin D is not completely harmless, as it can interact with some medications and can be associated with side effects when taken in excess.

Please talk with your medical provider about vitamin D and read the USPTF recommendations. The one vitamin supplement I recommend the most is vitamin D by far.

In good health,

Dr. Narrett