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By John Schieszer
For Senior Voice 

Men age 50 and older may need more vitamin D


June 1, 2017

Many women know the importance of getting screened for vitamin D levels and raising them if they are too low. However, many men over age 50 in Alaska may have low levels and need to take action, according to dietitian Stephanie Figon, who is with Alaska Weight Management and Diabetes Counseling in Palmer, Alaska.

Figon said Alaskans have a very high prevalence of low vitamin D levels compared to the lower 48, partly due to the lack of sunlight during most of the year.

“If an Alaskan is not eating salmon several times per week and drinking vitamin D fortified milk daily, it is highly likely that they will be below the normal range for vitamin D,” Figon told Senior Voice.

Figon said vitamin D is important for both women and men. It is well established that women have more severe problems with osteoporosis and so vitamin D is probably a bigger issue for women. However, the latest research is recognizing a very wide ranging role for vitamin D in metabolic processes throughout the body.

“I think the most important take-home message is that if you live in Alaska, you probably need to be taking a vitamin D supplement year round to avoid the risk of deficiency,” said Figon.

Low blood levels of vitamin D are associated with bone and muscle problems. In addition, low levels are associated with an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cognitive impairment in older adults. While some of the studies have been mixed looking at whether boosting vitamin D levels can prevent certain disease, experts say it is important to know your levels and very low levels may be a health concern.

Connie Diekman, who is the Director of University Nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, said while it is possible to consume adequate vitamin D from our diets, most people do not. So, it is not uncommon for people to be low in vitamin D or deficient.

“Vitamin D helps the immune system, keeps muscles functioning, aids with energy levels, and appears to help with balance, which can often be a challenge as we age. Vitamin D is not gender specific and is something everyone needs to think about,” Diekman told Senior Voice.

She recommends that all men over the age of 50 in Alaska examine how much dairy they consume, how many vitamin D fortified foods they consume, and how often they get any sunlight. She said once that is completed, then it is a good time to consult a physician to check your vitamin D levels to determine how to boost vitamin D blood levels.

Vitamin D protects against colds, flu

Recent studies have suggested that problems associated with low levels have vitamin D have been overblown. One study failed to show any improvements in heart disease when blood levels were raised. However, researchers caution that the science is evolving and there is still more unknown than known when it comes vitamin D’s effects on different organ systems.

Vitamin D supplements protect against acute respiratory infections including colds and flu, according to a study released this past February. The study provided the most robust evidence yet that vitamin D has benefits beyond bone and muscle health. It is theorized that vitamin D protects against respiratory infections by boosting levels of antimicrobial peptides, which are natural antibiotic-like substances in the lungs.

The results from the study, which were published in The British Medical Journal, are based on a new analysis of raw data from around 11,000 participants in 25 clinical trials conducted in 14 countries, including the UK, USA, Japan, India, Afghanistan, Belgium, Italy, Australia and Canada.

The researchers found the protective effects of vitamin D supplementation are strongest in those who have the lowest vitamin D levels, and when supplementation is given daily or weekly rather than in more widely spaced doses. Results from the study fit with the observation that colds and the flu are more common in winter and spring, when levels of vitamin D are at their lowest. They may also explain why vitamin D protects against asthma attacks, which are commonly triggered by respiratory viruses.

Daily or weekly supplementation halved the risk of acute respiratory infection in people with the lowest baseline vitamin D levels. However, people with higher baseline vitamin D levels also benefited, although the effect was more modest (10 percent risk reduction).

Author Bio

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John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute.

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