Older adults who have been housebound, institutionalized or hospitalized for extended periods face an increased risk of being deficient in vitamin D. This is firstly due to an absence of sunshine and vitamin D. Exposure to the sun’s rays is the body’s natural and primary source of vitamin D.
Compounding this, as people age the skin’s ability to absorb sunlight and produce vitamin D from it will also decrease. An increasing focus and awareness over the past decade on sun-related skin conditions has caused many people of all ages to avoid or cover up from the sun’s rays.
This has led to a wide-spectrum deficiency of vitamin D in all age groups in many societies. Unfortunately, a lack of vitamin D will cause an increasing vulnerability to many age-related diseases. Many of the effects and incidences of these diseases are preventable if people observe healthy lifestyle habits – exercising and eating a healthy diet – along with getting enough exposure to the sun’s rays. Vitamin D deficiency can increase a person’s risk of any or all of the following diseases that are common among the aged population:
In the past, the nutrient considered most essential to bone growth was calcium. Current research is showing that even massive calcium intake has no benefit and can even be harmful if not combined with other essential minerals and vitamins, the major ones being vitamin D and the mineral magnesium. Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for building healthy bones and lowering the risk of osteoporosis as we age.
Getting sufficient exposure to sunlight is important for everyone, but especially for women who are already in their 40s and above. This group have often had their bone density compromised by the natural events of childbearing and lactation. Additionally, their lifestyle often limits their exposure to sunlight. Thus, will be lowered while their bones are being strengthened as they age.
Study after study has shown that vitamin D is crucial for assisting the prevention of more than 16 types of cancer including ovarian, colon, pancreatitis, breast, skin and prostate cancers. Besides being helpful in preventing specific cancers, vitamin D has also been found to play an important role in slowing down the growth of malignant cells. The role of vitamin D in preventing breast cancer is so crucial that this cancer has been labeled by some experts as “vitamin D deficiency syndrome”.
A three-year study was conducted which had 2,039 individuals as participants with all their blood sugar levels measured at the beginning of the study. The researchers followed up these study participants at six months and then every year for three years.
One of their findings indicated that for every increase in vitamin D levels, as measured by nanograms per milliliter, a person’s risk of diabetes is lowered by as much as 8 per cent. Those study participants who had the highest increase in vitamin D levels (with an average increase of 30 ng/mL) were able to lower their risk of having diabetes by as much as 38 per cent.
Coronary Heart Disease
There is sufficient evidence that having low levels of vitamin D leads to higher risk of coronary heart conditions. A Harvard study showed that people who have low vitamin D levels in their blood were two times more likely to suffer from coronary heart disease. Additional studies by other groups support these findings.
A group of scientists conducted a study in 2006 to ascertain the role of vitamin D in mental health. They had 80 elderly patients as study participants and after evaluating their levels of vitamin D, experts found out that those who had the lowest level of this vitamin were eleven times more at risk of suffering from the symptoms of depression.
Researchers also found out that obtaining as little as 400 IU of vitamin D daily from dietary sources can lower the risk from depression by as much as 20 per cent. This may seem surprising since 400 IU of vitamin D had been considered too low to be able to provide appreciable benefits.
This gave strong supporting evidence that dietary supplementation of vitamin D can be of great benefit when sunlight exposure is limited or not feasible due to immobility. But to prevent sunburn. limit your exposure to the sun to 20 minutes.
Skin and UV
While getting enough sunshine and vitamin D is important, too much can do more damage than good. Everyone has heard of the damage that UV light causes to unprotected skin. While UV light has a place in human health, it can also cause vast amounts of damage to skin and other organs if over exposed without sunscreen protection. UV light is critical in the production of vitamin D in the human body. It is also used as a therapy for psoriasis.
The light rays emitted from the sun come in several forms. UV light is naturally occurring and almost unavoidable. Skin damaged caused by UV rays comes in a variety of forms. UV exposure can cause skin cancer. The type of cancer caused by exposure to these rays includes melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer. This disease is one of the most common cancers among young people between the ages of 15 and 29. Melanoma is the leading cause of cancer deaths in this age group. It accounts for about 75% of the skin cancer related deaths worldwide.
Cancers like squamous cell and basal cell carcinomas are also caused by exposure to UV light. These are less deadly than melanoma but can cause disfigurement and other serious health issues. Squamous cell carcinoma appears as red or scaly patches of skin on the body and especially the face. Basal cell carcinomas are usually found in the form of nodules or fleshy bumps on the face and shoulder areas. Both of these cancers are rarely fatal, but they are quite prevalent. Most people will experience some form of skin cancer during their lifetime.
Exposure to UV light also causes damage to the skin in ways other than cancer. Prolonged exposure to these rays causes the skin to thicken and wrinkle. This leathery appearance is facilitated by the breakdown of collagen within the skin. Premature aging of the skin and actinic keratoses is commonly caused by even normal sun exposure. Many scientists believe that there is no way to block all of the effects of UV exposure. Just riding in a car or walking from a car to the store exposes skin to UV light.
UV light is also blamed for many cases of cataracts and other eye damage. Wearing sunglasses is thought to control some of this damage. Again, there is no way to protect the eyes from all UV exposure. It is important to purchase sunglasses that are labeled as “UV blocking.” Not all sunglasses provide adequate protection from the sun and many can actually cause more damage since the eye is open during exposure.
Minimizing exposure to UV light is the only way to protect skin from its damaging potential. Wearing sun block on a daily basis is an excellent start when protecting skin. Many cosmetics include sun block in their formula. It is best to begin protecting children from sun exposure at an early age. Wearing hats and sunglasses, covering as much skin as possible and limiting time in the sun to 20 minutes or less is the best way to protect most of the UV rays from reaching delicate skin and eyes.