Originally introduced to the world as a fat-soluble vitamin and later as a steroid hormone, vitamin D offers myriad health benefits to the body. Because it plays a role in over 1,000 physiological processes, it is easy to understand why vitamin D is so important as people get older. According to results from a variety of scientific studies, this potent vitamin/hormone helps encourage healthy aging in many ways.
A British study conducted in 2007 showed that vitamin D may help slow the aging process and protect the body from age-related disease. Researchers followed more than 2,000 women with ages ranging from 18 to 79 and examined their white blood cells. Measuring the length of telomeres (the capped ends of DNA strands) is a reliable way to determine if a person is aging. As people get older, telomeres become shorter and DNA becomes more unstable.
According to their vitamin D levels, the female subjects were assigned to three groups. Results showed that women with the highest vitamin D levels had longer telomeres than women with the lowest levels. Researchers concluded that by keeping telomeres longer, vitamin D may slow the aging process, and this may explain the protective effect vitamin D appears to provide from conditions like heart disease and cancer.
Another important Dutch study examining people 55 years of age and older found that low vitamin D levels were linked with an inability to perform daily tasks. Subjects were divided into two age groups and tested for activities like walking stairs, dressing and undressing, standing from a seated position, and self-care. While results showed a link between lower vitamin D levels and reduced ability to perform the activities, more research is needed to determine if low vitamin D levels actually cause disability in performance.
Additional Vitamin D Benefits
Most people know that vitamin D plays a role in the development and maintenance of healthy bones and teeth, but it offers many more benefits to the health. Vitamin D boosts immunity and helps prevent colds, flus and other types of infection. Mounting evidence suggests that vitamin D may also offer a preventative effect against Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis and cancers of the breast, colon, esophagus, lymphatic system, ovaries and prostate.
With all of the health benefits mentioned, it makes sense to get vitamin D on a daily basis, especially for people over 50. The best source of vitamin D is the sun, and spending 10 minutes in sunshine before applying sunscreen usually provides a sufficient daily amount. People can also find vitamin D in foods like fish, eggs, dairy and nut milk, cod liver oil, and fortified cereals and juices. Vitamin D supplements work well during periods of colder weather, and health professionals recommend from 400 to 1,100 mg per day depending on age.