As vital as it is, calcium is just one piece of the bone health puzzle. Calcium helps maintain bone density and strength. For efficient calcium absorption, the body needs an adequate supply of vitamin D.
Along with calcium, vitamin D also helps prevent and treat osteoporosis. Deficiency in vitamin D has been shown to cause muscle weakness, which can compromise a person’s ability to maintain balance and stability. This contributes to an increased risk of falls and fractures.
There is scientific evidence that implicates vitamin D deficiency with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension, cardiovascular heart disease, macular degeneration, and many common deadly cancers (colorectal, breast, prostate, and pancreas).
Who’s at risk?
Vitamin D deficiency is more common than many people think. About one billion people worldwide are deficient in vitamin D. It is highly prevalent in people over 65 years old and in those with osteoporosis. Numerous studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency is common in postmenopausal women. Skin levels of vitamin D and the skin’s ability to manufacture the vitamin diminish with age.
About 1 in 3 women 60 to 70 years of age and almost 7 in 10 of those 80 years of age or older have osteoporosis. Almost half of women and about 1 in 5 men 50 years of age or older will sustain an osteoporosis-related fracture in their remaining lifetime.
Get some sun
People need some degree of sun exposure to convert vitamin D present in skin from its precursor to its active form. Experts recommend sensible sun exposure of the arms, legs, hands and face for five to ten minutes two to three times a week. They also advise eating vitamin D-rich food, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, egg yolks, liver, as well as vitamin D-fortified food such as milk, orange juice, some breads and cereals, margarines, cheeses, and yogurts.
The US National Osteoporosis Foundation recently updated its recommendations for daily adequate vitamin D. It recommends that adults under 50 years of age get 400-800 International Units of vitamin D daily while adults 50 and over get 800-1000 IU of vitamin D daily.
Oral vitamin D supplementation between 700 to 800 IU/day appears to reduce the risk of hip and non-vertebral fractures in ambulatory or institutionalized elderly persons.