The Importance of Vitamin D as We Age

Getting enough vitamin D ensures that our bodies function well, keeps our bones strong, and may minimize the effects of some cancers. Maintaining proper levels of vitamin D is important at every age, however, it’s especially significant for older adults, who are more at risk of fall-related injuries. Without vitamin D, our bodies are unable to absorb calcium, which is the primary component of bone.

While our bodies make vitamin D when exposed to direct sunlight, many older adults don’t always get regular sun exposure and can have additional difficulties absorbing vitamin D. Although many of us are aware of the importance of vitamin D for bone health, there are many other ways vitamin D protects our bodies that are often overlooked.

At Maplewood Senior Living, your health is top priority. Our culinary teams work hard to make sure our residents are eating well as they age and keep a close eye on them to make sure they are getting all the right nutrients they need.  Read about our dining philosophy. 

Importance of Vitamin D for Seniors

Traditionally, people recognize vitamin D by its role in protecting our bones. However, researchers are beginning to accumulate more data that suggests vitamin D does much more than it’s credited. Here are some of the important functions that vitamin D plays in the body:

Bone health and calcium absorption. Vitamin D is best known for its ability to keep bones healthy by increasing the absorption of calcium. Low levels of vitamin D can significantly reduce the body’s ability to absorb calcium, increasing the risk of bone fractures. Besides, weak bones can lead to loss of bone density and osteoporosis.

Working with parathyroid glands. Parathyroid glands help balance calcium in the body by communicating with the kidneys, gut, and skeleton. When there is sufficient vitamin D enabling the absorption of calcium, extra dietary calcium is put to use in other areas of the body. However, if there is a shortage of calcium being absorbed or if vitamin D is low, the parathyroid glands will take calcium from the skeleton to maintain proper levels of calcium in the blood.

Prevents cancer. Research suggests that vitamin D can help prevent certain cancers. Some data suggests that many cells in the body can activate vitamin D, helping to regulate cellular growth. In return, this can help reduce the risk of cancers like colon, breast, and prostate cancer.

Reduces the risk of cognitive decline. Older adults are more at risk of developing illnesses that can result in cognitive decline. Recent studies have suggested that low vitamin D levels in older adults are associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline.

Causes of Vitamin D Deficiency

It’s not uncommon for older adults to have low levels of vitamin D, especially since many lack direct exposure to sunlight. In fact, during the shorter summer months, people who live at certain latitudes don’t have enough exposure to UVB energy to make all the vitamin D they need. Many older adults can have difficulty absorbing vitamin D as a result of interactions with certain medications or due to hereditary diseases, such as familial hypophosphatemia.

Lack of vitamin D can be difficult to identify, especially in adults. Signs and symptoms of vitamin D deficiency can look like fatigue, bone pain, muscle weakness, muscle aches, mood changes, and depression. While there are many different causes of vitamin D deficiency, here are a few of the most common causes in older adults, according to the Cleveland Clinic:

• Age. As we age, our bodies naturally reduce vitamin D production in the skin. Researchers have found that older adults produce 50% less vitamin D when compared to younger individuals.

• Mobility. It’s not uncommon for older adults to lose physical mobility as they age. Those who are non-ambulatory might find it difficult to get direct sun exposure as often as needed.

• Skin color. Those with darker skin do not necessarily lose the ability to produce vitamin D. According to a study performed on Maasai herders, they were producing vitamin D at the same level as adults taking 3,000-5,000 units per day.

• Chronic illnesses. Diseases like Cystic fibrosis, Crohn’s disease, and celiac disease make it difficult for intestines to absorb vitamin D.

• Weight loss surgeries. These surgeries can make it difficult to consume and absorb sufficient amounts of nutrients and vitamins needed for our bodies to function properly. Instead, those who have undergone weight-loss surgeries may need to consume supplements to ensure their bodies are absorbing enough vitamin D.

• Obesity. Those with a body mass index greater than 30 are more at risk of testing at low levels for vitamin D. Research suggests that fat cells store vitamin D instead of releasing it throughout the body.

• Kidney and liver diseases. These diseases make it difficult for the body to transform vitamin D into a usable form. This can cause a vitamin D deficiency that will need to be monitored.

Health Risks Related to Vitamin D Deficiency

When the body detects low levels of vitamin D, it has trouble absorbing calcium, which is critical for bone health. Instead of malfunctioning, the body takes calcium that’s stored in the bones. If this continues to go unaddressed, it can increase the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures, which older adults are already at an increased risk of developing.

Vitamin D deficiency can also lead to other medical problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, and autoimmune conditions. Those who have low levels of vitamin D were 70% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

How to Consume More Vitamin D

Adults ages 70 and below require 600 IU of vitamin D, while adults over the age of 70 require 800 IU. While getting enough vitamin D is needed to maintain proper body functions, too much can have an adverse effect.

Vitamin D comes primarily from direct exposure to sunlight. However, we can also consume vitamin D through food sources. While most foods aren’t high in vitamin D, there are some fortified foods, like milk, cereal, and orange juice that have higher amounts of vitamin D. You can also get vitamin D from fatty fishes like salmon and tuna, mushrooms, and egg yolks.

Maplewood’s Culinary Director, Chef David Simmonds gave us this delicious salmon recipe for two. He uses a variation of this in our communities.

Salmon Quilt Enroute with Mushroom Duxelle

(Mushroom stuffing, serves2)

Ingredients:

  • Fresh Norwegian Salmon Filet, 10 oz (skinless)
  • Olive oil, 2 oz
  • Mushrooms medium, 12
  • Shallots, 2 cloves peeled
  • Milk/Cream, 3 oz
  • Parmesan Cheese, 3 oz
  • Dry White wine, 4oz
  • Sea Salt, 1 teaspoon
  • Cracked black pepper, 1 teaspoon
  • Puff Pastry
  • Egg, 1

Cook mushrooms with shallots, olive oil, wine, reduce on low, add milk/cream continue to reduce. Pull from heat and add to a food processer. Blend the ingredients, add parmesan cheese season to taste, and then fold in a whipped egg. Place mixture on sizzle plater. Cut the salmon into thin strips to braid. Braid the strips and place them on top of the mushroom duxelle

Brush with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 12 minutes or until the internal temperature is 140 degrees.  Chef Dave garnished with roasted beets, green beans, and fresh lemon.

If this isn’t enough, vitamin D supplements can be a better option. It’s always important to consult your doctor before making changes to your diet or adding in a dietary supplement, especially because too much vitamin D can be harmful to your health.

Catering to Vitamin D Needs at Maplewood Senior Living

Taking care of our bodies can feel like a full-time job. At Maplewood Senior Living, our talented staff prioritizes the health needs of all residents. Our team of chefs at each community prepares meals specifically designed to meet the needs of older adults. Maplewood’s Nutritionist, Maria Gleason, works with our culinary teams and residents to create meals that are tasty and healthy. “We make sure our menus incorporate foods that are rich in Vitamin D such as salmon, eggs, cheeses, and fortified milk and orange juice.”

If you’re interested in learning more about our special offerings or scheduling a tour, please contact us.

Supplements for Seniors: What’s Good for an Aging Body?

Prioritizing our health through exercise, diet, and lifestyle choices can impact how we age and our quality of life. However, how we take care of our bodies will start to change, especially as we age. According to the World Health Organization, “requirements for some nutrients might be reduced, and some data suggests that requirements for other essential nutrients may rise later in life.” As we age, it’s important to reevaluate our diets and make changes to meet the evolving needs of our bodies. While we all age differently, there are a few common changes that happen to our bodies as we age.

How Our Bodies Change as We Age

Our bodies are constantly changing throughout our lives. Our needs as teenagers are drastically different from the needs we have as small children. Similarly, as we age, our bodies require different amounts of vitamins and other nutrients for many different reasons. Here are a few of the most common reasons, as reported by U.S. News and World Report.

Dietary Needs.

In addition to a slowed metabolism, older adults often become less active, which can cause them to eat less or not feel as hungry. Aging adults can also experience a diminished sense of taste, which can take some of the pleasure out of eating. While older adults require less food in general, this also means they need to meet their nutritional requirements in smaller quantities of food which can be challenging.

• Medications can often interfere with the way our bodies absorb nutrients and vitamins into our bloodstream. For example, long-term use of diuretics can inhibit the absorption of folate, which generates red blood cells and DNA.

Findings have suggested that as we age, our bodies’ ability to absorb and utilize nutrients becomes less efficient, which can cause our nutrient requirements to increase over time.

Physical Changes.

Other physical changes can affect hunger cues and the ability to eat and digest food. For example, many older adults experience a decline in their oral health, such as reduced saliva flow, which can make it difficult to chew and swallow.

Common Nutrient Deficiencies in Older Adults

These changes in our bodies can cause nutrient deficiencies, which can impact our overall health, quality of life, and longevity. Here are a few of the most common deficiencies in older adults:

Vitamin B12. It can be difficult for older adults to absorb this vitamin from food as well as they could in younger years. Vitamin B12 is responsible for creating red blood cells, DNA, and maintaining nerve function. Even if your diet contains enough B12, which is found in fish, meat, milk products, and eggs, it’s not uncommon for older adults to miss their daily requirements.

Folate. Too little of this vitamin can lead to anemia, which can cause a variety of health issues. Older adults whose diets don’t include fresh vegetables, fruits, or breakfast cereals may be falling short on folate.

Calcium. We need calcium to maintain bone strength, which is especially important as older adults are more at risk of fall-related injuries. Too little calcium, which is found in dairy products, can lead to brittle bones and fractures.

Vitamin D. We produce Vitamin D when we’re exposed to the sun, but we can also consume it through Vitamin D fortified foods like some juices, yogurt, and milk. Vitamin D helps us absorb calcium, maintain bone strength, and protects us from chronic diseases.

Potassium. This mineral is also important for keeping our bones strong, in addition to reducing high blood pressure and kidney stones. Potassium is found in fruits and vegetables.

Magnesium. The absorption of magnesium reduces in age and can be difficult to absorb when taking certain medications. Magnesium is extremely important for older adults as it helps to build our immunity, keep our hearts healthy, and build strong bones.

Fiber. Fiber helps our digestive system function properly and can also protect against heart disease. Most people only get half of the recommended levels of fiber from their diets. Foods like whole grains, nuts, beans, vegetables, and fruits are high in fiber.

Managing Your Needs through Supplements

Many of the deficiencies we might experience as we age can be addressed by making changes to our diet. However, sometimes even that might not be enough. Supplements can help you achieve your daily nutritional requirements in addition to making small changes to your diet. It’s important to note that supplements can interfere with certain medications, so it’s crucial to consult your doctor before adding in supplements. Here are a few supplements that can be helpful for older adults:

Fish Oil supplements contain omega-3 fatty acids and support cardiovascular health. Some researchers suggest that this supplement can help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, prostate cancer, and depression.

Calcium is stored in our bones and teeth and plays an important role in preventing bone decay in older adults. Calcium is found in dairy products, but it can be hard to consume the proper amount, especially for those who have food allergies.

Probiotics are a class of bacteria that help the digestive system function properly. They also work to keep the gut healthy, which some researchers suggest is linked to our brain health.

Potassium can be hard to absorb, especially for people with inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Some medications can also interfere with the body’s ability to absorb potassium. Potassium supplements can help reduce the risk of kidney stones and monitor blood pressure levels.

Tips for Taking Dietary Supplements

Before you start taking dietary supplements, it is strongly advised to check with your healthcare provider because some supplements can react with medications and can actually be detrimental to your health if you have other health concerns. Be sure to take the correct dosage. Purchase from third party verified sources to ensure they are safe and high quality.

Products marked with USP or NSF on the label are more reliable. And, be sure to monitor any side effects. If you experience vomiting, bone pain, constipation, diarrhea, or headaches, be sure to consult your healthcare provider.

Aging Gracefully at Maplewood Senior Living

Health is always a priority at Maplewood Senior Living. Our culinary teams in our communities provide healthy, well-balanced meals designed to meet the various needs of our residents. Our medical team is also available to answer any dietary or nutrition-related questions. If you are interested in learning more about our communities, please contact us.