A Daily Dose of Sunshine

Do the winter months have you hibernating indoors? Are you reluctant to go outside due to the cold weather?  Have the shorter days decreased the amount of time you spend outdoors?

If so, you may find that you’ve noticed a change in your mood and energy levels, among other things.  While this can be a result of seasonal depression, or the winter blues, it may also be an indication of a vitamin D deficiency.


What is vitamin D deficiency and what causes it?

Simply stated, a vitamin D deficiency is when you do not have enough vitamin D in your body to stay healthy.  An insufficient amount of vitamin D primarily affects your bones and muscles, along with other bodily functions and systems.  Not getting enough vitamin D through sunshine or through your diet will result in an insufficiency.  Furthermore, improper absorption of vitamin D will also result in a deficiency.


How do I get vitamin D and why is it important?

There are three main sources of vitamin D, including absorption through your skin, through your diet, and through supplements.  When you are exposed to sunlight, your body will naturally produce vitamin D.  Lack of sunlight exposure reduces the production of vitamin D, thus leading to an insufficiency.  Those who refrain from sun exposure should ensure they are obtaining proper amounts of vitamin D through either the foods they eat or supplementation.

Vitamin D is especially important for seniors because it promotes strong bones, helps muscles move, and has a key role in supporting a healthy immune system.  While the role of vitamin D in the skeletal system is the most researched and well-known, it also impacts the nervous, cardiovascular, and endocrine systems as well.  Research indicates an association between low levels of vitamin D and diseases associated with aging.  This includes, but is not limited to, cognitive decline, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, depression, osteoporosis, and cancer.


Which foods are rich in vitamin D?

Fatty fish are an excellent source of vitamin D.  Oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, rainbow trout, herring and sardines are all excellent choices when trying to increase your vitamin D intake.  Certain mushrooms, such as portobello and shiitake, pack a punch, as well.  Cheese and eggs, specifically egg yolks, are yet another natural source of vitamin D.  The food industry has recognized the need for additional nutrients in our diets, creating fortified foods to provide these key vitamins.  Cereal, yogurt, orange juice, and milk are all examples of fortified foods that provide additional vitamin D to our diet.


What are the signs or symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency in seniors?

While some individuals deficient in vitamin D may be asymptomatic, others can experience some or all of the following:

  • Fatigue- A noticeable change in energy levels, or an overall feeling of fatigue, may indicate a deficiency.
  • Depression or feelings of sadness- Decreased productivity, low self-esteem, lack of motivation, difficulty focusing, irritability, and lack of interest in socializing may all point to signs of depression.
  • Mood change or mood swings- Any noticeable shift in your overall mood or demeanor should not be ignored.  It’s usually a warning sign that something is off!
  • Hair loss- Sudden thinning or brittle hair should raise a red flag.  Hair loss can be caused by genetic factors, but may also be the result of nutrient deficiencies, stress, or other health conditions.
  • Getting sick more easily- A vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased autoimmunity and an increased susceptibility to infection.  A nutrient-dense diet and supplements can improve your immunity and play a key role in your overall health and well-being.
  • Difficulty healing wounds- Wounds require vitamin D to begin the healing process and to ward off infection.  An insufficiency will slow the process, making it difficult for wounds to properly heal in a timely manner.
  • Muscle weakness- Low levels of vitamin D can result in age-related loss of muscle strength known as dynapenia.  This greatly increases the risk factor of falls in individuals over 65 years of age.
  • Bone pain or achiness- Osteoporosis is a term commonly used among seniors in relation to their bone health.  Less commonly used is the term osteomalacia, which is deficient bone mineralization, referred to as soft bones.  Major signs and symptoms include bone pain, skeletal muscle weakness, and fractures.
  • Not sleeping well– Low levels of vitamin D can be the culprit of nocturnal awakenings, sleep difficulties, and shorter sleep durations.
  • Pale in color- An overall dull complexion may result from a lack of vitamin D.  This includes less than supple skin, dark circles, and a grayish tint.


If you believe you may be experiencing a vitamin D deficiency, or any type of vitamin deficiency, contact your health care provider to discuss your options.  If left untreated, vitamin deficiencies can lead to greater health issues.