I think I'm in love with vitamin D. I'm generally fond of all vitamins and minerals, but I have a special affection for vitamin D.
I've always assumed I could get enough vitamin D with daily exposure to 15 to 20 minutes of direct sunlight. But now it appears that some people, especially older women like me, do not get enough sunlight, particularly during gray, cloudy, winter months.
I know I can get it from certain foods — although there are not that many of them. Salmon and sardines are good choices. Fortified milk and orange juice have vitamin D added to them, and egg yolks have some. But that's about it.
Then I got a wake-up call. At my annual physical exam, I was found to have a significant vitamin D deficiency. I'd admittedly been poor about taking my drugstore vitamin D on a regular basis over the last year. I should have been more vigilant because I know vitamin D deficiency is a risk factor for bone problems, and I have a strong family history of osteoporosis.
I was given a prescription for vitamin D. For most older adults, taking vitamin D usually involves 600 to 800 international units of a good-quality vitamin D each day — the kind you buy at your local pharmacy or health-food store. Check with your health provider about your particular dosage, and always look for the USP seal on over-the-counter medications to ensure quality.
It took only a couple of weeks before I became conscious that something had changed for the better. I definitely felt I had more energy. I was clearer headed. More consistently "in the moment."
And here's the best part: I actually beat my husband at Scrabble three times in a row, and I've rarely bested him at the game of Scrabble in the 28-year history of our marriage.
It gets even better. Lasting love, if you will. It happened when I read the summary of a soon-to-be published study which found vitamin D deficiency is much more common than previously thought — especially among women in nursing homes. And it appears to be associated with an increased risk of death. The findings can be found in the April issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. The "study findings highlight the need to prevent and treat vitamin D deficiency," according to Dr. Stefan Pilz, of the Medical University of Graz in Austria.
In this case, Dr. Pilz and his colleagues did not prove cause and effect. Replicated studies will assuredly be done with that intention. But this study did find something powerfully unexpected. They looked at 1,000 female nursing home residents, average age 84, and found that almost 93 percent had lower-than-recommended vitamin D levels. The "vast majority of nursing home residents were severely vitamin D deficient — and those with the lowest vitamin D levels were at high risk of mortality."
The author of the study was passionate about his findings. "This situation warrants immediate action to prevent and treat vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D supplementation can exert significant benefits on clinically relevant outcomes such as fractures," said Dr. Pilz.
There you have it — personally useful health information — easy to act on. And it comes with the promise of better overall health and well-being. Don't you just love it?
Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 541-776-7371, Ext. 210.