Important for Older Women to Get Enough Vitamin D During Winter

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Aging and menopause often make a woman more prone to develop health conditions such as high blood pressure and osteoporosis. Therefore, it makes it even more important that we practice self-care, like making sure we get enough of important vitamins and nutrients, to protect our health. For instance, new research is suggesting that many women who have specific health conditions may also have inadequate levels of vitamin D, especially during the winter months.

    Researchers from Vanderbilt University looked at the seasonal vitamin D levels of 244 women over a 15-month period. All of these women had some form of health condition, such as osteoporosis, high blood pressure, arthritis, hypothyroidism and cancer.

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    The researchers compared the participants’ vitamin D levels to determine if they were deficient (levels of this vitamin that are less than 20 ng/mL) or insufficient (vitamin levels of 20-29 ng/mL) during the course of the study. The researchers found that during the winter, 29 percent of the women were deficient while 33 percent actually had insufficient levels. However, during summer, only five percent of the participants had deficient levels while 38 percent had insufficient levels.

    “We found that these women have a severe drop off in vitamin D levels in the winter, which is a real concern for women who already are coping with significant health conditions,” said Dr. Samir Aleryani, senior author of the study and assistant professor of pathology at Vanderbilt. “Women with these health conditions need to be much more proactive, and should talk to their doctors regarding the best supplements to take to ensure adequate levels of vitamin D.”    

    So what is vitamin D? According to the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements, “Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in very few foods, added to others, and available as a dietary supplement.” This vitamin promotes bone growth and strength, modulation of cell growth, neuromuscular and immune function and reduction of inflammation. According to the Mayo Clinic, this vitamin also may provide protection from osteoporosis, high blood pressure, cancer and some autoimmune diseases. And as I noted in a recent sharepost on HealthCentral’s Alzheimer’s site, new research is suggesting that vitamin D may strengthen cognitive ability and lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

    How much vitamin D should you try to get daily? The Mayo Clinic notes that the recommended daily amount (RDA) is 600 IU daily for people up to the age of 70 and 800 IU daily for people who are 71 years and older. (However, pregnant and lactating women have a different recommendation which I’m not addressing here since this site is specifically focused on menopause.)

    So how can you make sure you get enough vitamin D? The easiest way is through exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays during peak sunlight hours (10 a.m.-3 p.m.). The Mayo Clinic stated that as little as 10 minutes of exposure is believed to be sufficient in order to prevent deficiencies of this vitamin. However, the Vanderbilt researchers noted that many people who live in northern portions of the world are not able to produce vitamin D through their skin due to sun’s weaker intensity from November through March. Therefore, these people need to find other ways to make up the difference.

  • So what are other sources of vitamin D? One option is through food. Self’s NutritionData provides a list of the foods highest in vitamin D in a 200-calorie serving. The top sources include cod liver oil, Atlantic herring, wild catfish, oysters, sockeye salmon, pink salmon, canned trout, halibut, tofu, sardines, mackerel, soymilk, shrimp, fortified orange juice, dairy milk, fortified cereals, caviar, mushrooms, soy yogurt, cod, flounder and sole.

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    If you happen to have one of the conditions mentioned in the study, talk to your doctor about getting your vitamin D levels checked and also adjust your diet so that you get more foods with this important vitamin. Your entire body will thank you!

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    American Society for Clinical Pathology. (2012). Vitamin D levels of women with health conditions drop off drastically in winter, research shows. Press release.

    Mayo Clinic. (2012). Vitamin D.

    Office of Dietary Supplements. (2011). Dietary supplements: Vitamin D.

    Self NutritionData. (2012). Foods highest in vitamin D.

Published On: November 05, 2012