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From preventing osteoporosis to shoring up your immune system to fight the bacteria and germs you come in contact with each day (especially important these days!), you’ve heard that vitamin D is one of the most important supplements you can take.
Yet, the debate over who should take how much is still on-going, leaving many of us wondering if the recommended daily amount (RDA) for the sunshine vitamin at a measly 800 IUs should be our target. Or, maybe we should shoot for the 5,000 to 10,000 IUs or more that some doctors and experts recommend.
Well luckily, a new study might just have found that answer, at least when it comes to warding off frailty as you age to stay strong, fit and active.
Does frailty begin with low levels in middle-age?
The research, performed by a team at the University of Buffalo specifically set out to look at the issue of frailty due to its likelihood to lead to disability, loss of independence and increased rates of mortality.
They defined frailty as three or more of the following five characteristics:
- Unexpected weight loss
- Weak grip strength
- Self-reported exhaustion
- Low levels of physical activity
- Slow walking speed
And when you read that list, it’s easy to see why these issues could all add up to a person being unable to care for themselves or even suffering a life-threatening health problem.
Previous research by the team had shown that long-term low levels of the sunshine vitamin in middle-age could reduce capacity for exercise and lead to the body shedding muscle and putting on fat.
This got the scientists wondering…
If vitamin D is so important for middle-aged people to keep them strong, slim and moving, how much more important could it be at older ages?
So they set up a new study…
Weaker after just one month
And their latest work in mice is definitely an eye-opener for anyone who still hasn’t jumped on the vitamin D train!
Their study, published in the journal Nutrients, revealed that that not getting enough of the vitamin in older age may drive the development of frailty.
“We found that in aged mice, low levels of vitamin D [resulted] in physical declines, such as reduced grip strength and grip endurance — the ability to sustain a grip — and that they started developing as soon as 1 month after reduction of vitamin D intake,” said first study author Kenneth L. Seldeen, Ph.D.
Yup, just a month with low vitamin D levels was enough to start the spiral into frailty, disability, loss of independence and increased mortality rate.
And there was one more critical finding…
The scientists found that vitamin D only protected the mice from these effects when intake of the vitamin was five times higher than the equivalent recommended intake for older adults.
“To slow the progression of frailty, it actually took greater amounts of vitamin D than what is currently considered sufficient for a human,” said Seldeen.
The researchers say that this means that a daily dosage of 4,000 IU would be necessary to slow the development of frailty in old age.
I guess our questions about whether the RDA for vitamin D is good enough are settled. In fact, many will argue that 800 IU is barely enough for healthy bones.
So what’s keeping people from supplementing enough vitamin D? An unfounded fear of vitamin toxicity.
Vitamin D toxicity can happen. It can result in hypercalcemia — a buildup of too much calcium in your blood — which can cause nausea and vomiting, weakness and frequent urination. Vitamin D toxicity might progress to bone pain and kidney problems, such as the formation of calcium stones.
But to get there you would have to take 60,000 IU of vitamin D every day for several months, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Many doctors suggest taking 5,000 IU daily to boost your levels, and even just maintain them. That’s because many things are working against your levels of vitamin D in your body, including:
- Your weight. If you are overweight your vitamin D is less bioavailable in your body. Good things happen when you get enough. A 2015 study found that people who were overweight or obese and deficient in vitamin D lost weight once they started taking a vitamin D supplement.
- Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, like BPA from plastics, reduces vitamin D levels in your bloodstream.
- Age. A person over the age of 70 produces 30 percent less vitamin D than a younger person with the same amount of sun exposure.
- Liver and kidney disease can prevent your body from absorbing vitamin D properly. As well, digestive disorders like celiac disease, chronic pancreatitis, irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease, cause poor vitamin D absorption.
Additionally, if you have concerns about your vitamin D level, your doctor can certainly check that out in bloodwork at your next checkup.
The Vitamin D Council recommends 5,000 IU of vitamin D per day. The Endocrine Society Practice Guidelines state that up to 10,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily is safe for most adults.
Be sure to choose a natural vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) supplement like Peak D3™ and not synthetic vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol). Most vitamin D prescriptions are for ergocalciferol.
Vitamin D — NHS
Vitamin D Helps the Immune System During Cold and Flu Season — Pharmacy Times
Mayo Clinic Q and A: How much vitamin D do I need? — Mayo Clinic
Very high dosages of vitamin D may delay frailty in old age — MedicalNewsToday