Second Wind: The geezer’s ABCs of Vitamin D |

Second Wind: The geezer’s ABCs of Vitamin D

The swami says you are about to get excited about vitamin D.

Hey, I used to think vitamin D was dull, too. In fact, since I didn’t have rickets, I didn’t think about vitamin D at all. Well, if that’s true of you too, it’s time for both of us to wake up and smell the new data that are coming out about vitamin D – information that can change our life and health.

There is a large and growing body of evidence that many people are deficient in vitamin D – their tank is way low. Several studies show that from 40 to 100% of US and European older people have insufficient levels of vitamin D. So think: common, very common deficiency. It could be you and that low level can be harmful, increasing muscle weakness and even increasing the risk of cancer and other diseases.

On the other hand, adequate levels of vitamin D may protect against colon, prostate and breast cancer and one study of 50,000 men at the Harvard School of Public Health suggests that higher vitamin D levels lower the risk of all cancers by at least 30%.

So who knew about falls and Vitamin D?

The role of vitamin D in preventing falls is astonishing. In a randomized controlled trial – which is the kind good scientists do – nursing home residents who were given 800 IU of vitamin D per day plus calcium had a 72% reduction in the risk of falls compared with the placebo group in a study that lasted five months. Well, it makes sense. If the lack of vitamin D can lead to weak muscles, adequate levels could mean a stronger, steadier person.

Lack of vitamin D has also been linked to type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. If you want to know more, a very thorough article about vitamin D deficiency appears in The New England Journal of Medicine, July 19, 2007, by Michael Holick, M.D., Ph.D. and them’s no creds to sneeze at.

How to Get Vitamin D

First, think sun. Yes, we’ve been told to fear the sun because of skin cancer, but now, other doctors who are not dermatologists are arguing we need to arrive at a more balanced view of sun exposure. What the medical community is trying to come up with is how to get vitamin D levels up to where they should be at the same time protecting our skin. Dr. Holick has this recommendation: “Exposure of arms and legs for 5 to 30 minutes (depending on time of day, season, latitude, and skin pigmentation) between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m, twice a week” – which any of us could do by putting on shorts and a tee shirt to take the dog for a walk.

Dermatologists, long enemies of the sun, but now aware of the benefits of vitamin D, are still recommending only vitamin supplementation and food sources such as salmon and cod liver oil. When it comes to taking vitamins, the current official recommendation is not over 600 IU’s a day, but that may be changing to 800 IU a day. Stay tuned to the debate, for the issue will be taken up by the USDA as more and more science comes in about the benefits of vitamin D and the bad things that happen when we don’t have enough.

And we thought we were home-free if we didn’t have rickets.

Words for the Wise

A quick footnote: low vitamin D and calcium levels lead to soft bones and that in turn can lead to bone pain. To quote Dr. Holick: “One study showed that 93% of persons 10 to 65 years of age who were admitted to a hospital emergency department with muscle aches and bone pain and who had a wide variety of diagnoses, including fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and depression, were deficient in vitamin D”.

I also thank local physician and fellow columnist at The Union, Dr. Winni Loesch, for alerting Cranky Pants and me to the broad range of diseases connected to low vitamin D levels, levels that can be evaluated with a simple lab test. Thanks, Winni. Our bones and muscles thank you too.


Mel Walsh is a gerontologist and certifiable geezer. Her book of advice for older women, Hot Granny, is available at The Bookseller in Grass Valley and online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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