Scientists Reveal New Findings About Older Adults Who Take Vitamin D
Stephanie Sassos, M.S., R.D.N., C.S.O., C.D.N., NASM-CPT
July 30, 2023 (Good Housekeeping) — Vitamin D is a unique nutrient in that it comes from the food we eat and is a hormone that our bodies make. The fat soluble vitamin has a slew of important functions and vitamin D health benefits, from supporting immunity and healthy bones to improving mood. But new research shows that it may have other protective benefits for older adults.
A recent study published in the British Medical Journal, looked at a large sample of older adults ages 60 to 84. Participants were divided into two groups – one was given a placebo, while the other was given a vitamin D supplement of 60,000 IU a month (which averages out to about 2,000 IU a day) for up to five years. At the end of the study, data was analyzed from over 16,800 participants who were still taking the tablets.
During the trial, there were about 1,336 major cardiovascular events (i.e. heart attack, stroke and procedures to treat coronary artery disease). But compared with the placebo group, the rate of major heart problems was slightly lower in the vitamin D group, especially for those who were already taking heart medicines like statins at the beginning of the study.
Although the results are compelling, the findings were not statistically significant and prior research has shown no association with vitamin D supplementation and major heart problems. Ultimately, the best strategies to support heart health and reduce risk of heart disease include eating a healthy balanced diet, staying physically active, quitting smoking, reducing alcohol consumption, keeping blood pressure under control and checking your cholesterol levels. It’s also important to take your medicines as directed and attend regular check-ups with your health care team.
But that doesn’t mean that vitamin D isn’t important for heart health. In fact, vitamin D is needed to support blood vessels and normal blood pressure. What’s more, a vitamin D deficiency has been associated with elevated levels of lipids (a.k.a fats) in your blood, as well as vascular dysfunction and arterial stiffening. Research has also linked a lower vitamin D status to an increased risk of ischemic stroke, heart attack and heart disease.
How much vitamin D do I need?
Older adults need about 600 – 800 IU of vitamin D daily, depending on their age. You can get this through a combination of sun exposure and vitamin-D rich foods, which include salmon, eggs, sardines, liver, white mushrooms and fortified foods.
But supplementing with more isn’t always better. Since vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, too much can put you at serious risk for toxicity including adverse side effects like kidney stones and high calcium levels in the blood. Our experts say that it is best not to consume more than 4,000 IU daily, which is the tolerable upper intake level.
Signs of vitamin D deficiency
We recommend speaking with your healthcare provider if you suspect a vitamin D deficiency, as they can take bloodwork and then recommend the appropriate supplementation dosage based on your current levels. Some common signs of vitamin D deficiency include:
- Mood changes
- Muscle pain and weakness
- Reduced immune function
- Increased inflammation
- Frequent infections
- Rickets (in children)
- Bone disorders
What should I look for in a vitamin D supplement?
Since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve dietary supplements for safety and effectiveness prior to going to market, it’s incredibly important to thoroughly research each supplement you add to your regimen and speak with your healthcare provider before doing so. Look for options that have been tested for purity, potency and safety by a credible third-party organization.
Our team of registered dietitians spent months analyzing dozens of vitamin D supplements to bring you our top-tested recommendations for the best vitamin D supplements on the market.
The bottom line: New research suggests that supplementing with vitamin D may reduce the risk of heart attacks, but the results were not statistically significant and more research is needed. That being said, vitamin D does play a role in supporting a healthy heart, blood vessels and normal blood pressure. If you suspect a deficiency, speak with your healthcare provider who can take bloodwork and determine the appropriate supplement dose for you. The best strategies to support heart health include eating a healthy balanced diet, staying physically active, quitting smoking, reducing alcohol consumption and keeping blood pressure under control.