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Sunday, October 20, 2019 16:12

The Impacts of Vitamin D Deficiency

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Addressing Vitamin D Deficiency in Later Life?

Could sun dried mushrooms and tank-top shirts be keys to reducing vitamin D deficiencies in later life thus reducing fall risks? Well, yes and let’s discuss why. Vitamin D is often called the sunshine vitamin as it is made from cholesterol in skin and as the sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) penetrate skin cells it causes production of vitamin D3. 1The dilemma for seniors is that older skin cannot synthesize vitamin D as efficiently while outside activities are often greatly reduced: and, while there are few foods that actually contain vitamin D, older seniors need more vitamin D, approximately 800 IU (international units) daily, as opposed to 600 IU daily for their younger counterparts. 2(According to the Institutes of Medicine, a serum 25 (OH) D level of 25 ng/ml is adequate for most populations while deficiency is defined as less than 20 ng/ml, with insufficiency being less than 30 ng/ml. Through a process called hydroxylation, the liver and kidneys turn stored vitamin D into an active form the body uses.) 

Vitamin D Deficiency is Linked to Poorer Health 

Because older adults are vulnerable to muscle weakness and falls, maintaining sufficient levels of vitamin D is important: there is evidence that sufficient vitamin D levels can strengthen bone and muscles in older adults which leads to reductions in falls3 – the primary benefit of vitamin D is to maintain serum calcium and phosphorus levels within normal ranges to support metabolic function, neuromuscular transmission, and bone mineralization.4 In fact, vitamin D deficiencies are linked to a multitude of health risks. For seniors in later life, vitamin D deficiency has been linked in studies to such conditions as cognitive decline, depression, osteoporosis, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, although there is debate about the strength of the link. 5Vitamin deficient older adults living in areas prone to inadequate exposure to sunlight have increased risk of experiencing cognitive decline. 6Vitamin D deficient older adults may experience a loss of bone density which causes fractures and falls.7 Vitamin D deficient older adults may experience increases of risk factors for cardiovascular disease. 8Vitamin D deficient older adults may experience increases of risk factors for depression and other psychiatric conditions.9

Add Vitamin D through Supplements, Diet and Modest Sun Exposure 

There are essentially three things all seniors should do to boost vitamin D levels: go out in the sun but in moderation to avoid risks of skin cancer,  take supplements including fortified foods and eat more foods that contain higher levels of vitamin D like certain types of fish. Vitamin D supplementation has been shown to be an important treatment option to boost vitamin D in older adults. 10In fact, many foods including orange juices, milk, margarines, cereals and yogurts are fortified with vitamin D and should be part of older adult diets. 11Moderate exposure to sunlight at times when sun is strongest has been shown to increase vitamin D levels, although skin needs to be uncovered and sunscreen will inhibit production of vitamin D.12 And, diets abundant in fishy oils, beef liver, or egg yolks has been shown to increase vitamin D levels. 

Nevertheless, diet will not alone supply an adequate amount of vitamin D. Keep in mind that in studies of vitamin D content in flesh of fatty fish, wild salmon which is now in shorter supply, was shown to have adequate levels of vitamin D per serving size while farm-raised salmon, particularly when fried and other oily fish like mackerel or canned tuna were found not to have sufficient levels (75% less) of vitamin D. 13Moreover, there is little production of vitamin D in foods (unfortified) like milk, egg yolks or beef liver.14

Sun Dried Mushrooms Can Boost Vitamin D

Mushrooms that are popular in American diets have potential to be super-super foods to seniors chronically deficient in vitamin D. Mushrooms are naturally low in sodium, fat, cholesterol and calories and thus present little to no dietary risks, the same way sugar or fat would. Yet, agaricus mushrooms such as shitakes, white, button, maitake, oyster, shimeji and other mushrooms common in human diets, contain rich sources of vitamins’ B2, B3, B6 and B7 and comes with beta-glucans which strengthen natural immunity. And, mushrooms are rich in estosterol, which when exposed to ultraviolet B rays, converts to ergocalciferols or provitamin D2. 15Thus, when commonly eaten mushrooms are exposed to ultraviolet radiation such as natural sunlight or a UV lamp, the process can significantly boost vitamin D production within the mushroom. 16Sun dried shitake mushrooms with gills facing the sun and sliced, will produce a significant amount of vitamin D particularly from 10:AM to 4:00 PM, and sliced mushrooms exposed to regular or pulsed UV light lamps has capability to boost levels of vitamin D2. 17In fact, vitamin D enhanced mushrooms are prescribed as an anti-cancer remedy. 18Older senior palates are conducive to eating mushrooms because they are easy to chew and swallow. Once sun dried, chop the mushrooms finely and sprinkle into foods including salads or soups and mushrooms can accent taste. 

Seniors should be able to boost vitamin D production by exposing more skin to sun for a half-hour several times a week and while fish, egg yolks and supplements should overcome vitamin D deficient older adults, sun-dried mushrooms could be the superfood most apt to boost vitamin D in the senior population. And, by maintaining adequate vitamin D seniors may reduce fall risk.


  1. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2004: 80 (S): 1678S-1688S 
  2. J Aging Gerontol. 2014 Dec. 2: (2): 60-71: Institute of Medicine: Dietary reference intakes 2010 
  3. Id: Endocr Rev. 2013 Feb.  34 (1): 33-83 doi10; 1210 EPub. 2012, Nov. 20
  4. Environ Health Perspect. 2008 Apr. 116 (4): A 160-A67
  5. J Investig Med. 2011: 59 (6) 872-80 
  6. Journal of American Geriatrics Society 2017
  7. Science Translational Medicine 10 Jul. 2013 193fs27
  8. American College of cardiology 2008: 52: 1949-1956
  9. Issues Mental Health Nurs. 2010: Jun; 31: (6) 385-393
  10. Nutritional Therapy & Metabolism 2011: 29 (1) 8-21
  11. Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board: Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D: 2010 
  12. Maturitas, Vol. 81: Issue 4: August 2015, PP. 425-431
  13. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2007. Mar, 103 (3-5)
  14. Ann Nutr Metab 2003; 47; 107-113
  15. Vitamin D in Mushrooms, by D.B Haytowitz,  Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, Beltsville, MD
  16. Nutrients, 2018 Oct. 10 (10) 1498
  17. Beelman et al, HAL Project No. MU07018 (April 30, 2009) Penn State University
  18. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, 2005: 7 (3) 471-472 
Read 1908 times Last modified on Tuesday, October 22, 2019 04:37
Robert Kelley

In-House Legal Counsel & Founder of Wellness-4 Later Life


Bringing the Best Solutions
to Seniors in Later Life.

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