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Vitamin D: Bone health and more!

December 11, 2021

For decades, we have known that vitamin D builds stronger bones by helping your body absorb calcium. Recent research suggests that vitamin D may also decrease your risk for breast, prostate, and colon cancer.

“Besides helping to prevent osteoporosis, there is strong evidence from the last five to 10 years that maintaining your levels of vitamin D actually helps to reduce cancer,” says Heather Chappell from the Canadian Cancer Society.

“We still don’t know what the optimal vitamin D levels are or how it works to prevent cancer, but the relationship is there,” she says.

Vitamin D is often called the “sunshine vitamin” because under the right conditions in the sun, the skin can produce its own vitamin D. However, during the winter, people in Canada produce very little vitamin D. The sunlight is too weak and we need to wear a lot of clothing.

Even in the summer, people may not get enough vitamin D:

  • Sunscreens and sun-protective clothing block the skin from producing vitamin D.
  • Dark skin does not produce vitamin D as efficiently as lighter-pigmented skin. Adults with highly pigmented skin need 10 to 20 times more sun exposure to make the same amount of vitamin D.
  • Older adults do not create vitamin D from sunlight as efficiently as younger people do. They may also spend less time outdoors.

Getting vitamin D through food and supplements

For these reasons, many health organizations suggest that you increase your vitamin D intake through diet, supplements, or both. Food sources of vitamin D include fortified foods, such as cow’s milk and soy or rice beverages. Margarine and fish, such as salmon and tuna, are also good sources of this vitamin.

Vitamin D: Bone health and more!

Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide advises people over the age of 50 to take in three servings of milk or fortified soy beverages a day. It also recommends a supplement of 400 IU (10 micrograms) of vitamin D every day.

“It’s very hard to get enough from what you eat,” says Dr. Kerry Siminoski, a specialist in bone disorder and bone health at the University of Alberta. “Liver is a source, but when is the last time someone told you they were eating liver for dinner? Or creamed salmon five days a week? With supplements, you ensure that you get what you need without short-changing your other nutritional requirements or exceeding your caloric intake.”

How much is too much?

Because the benefits of vitamin D go beyond bone health, several organizations recommend taking more than Health Canada does. Despite the potential benefits, Health Canada cautions that high doses can be toxic. However, if you want to take between 1,000 and 2,000 IU of vitamin D a day (from food and supplements combined), you should be safe. “There’s a huge safety margin for vitamin D as opposed to calcium,” says Dr. Siminoski.

Talk with your doctor, pharmacist, or dietitian to see if you could benefit from a daily vitamin D supplement.

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Why we need more vitamin B12 as we age?

November 27, 2021

by Kaylen Pfisterer, BSc, RIA Research Associate and the Assistant Research Coordinator

Every cell in our body needs vitamin B12 to grow properly. Over time, not having enough B12 can increase the risk of:

  • memory problems
  • heart disease
  • extra-large, unhealthy blood cells
  • loss of feeling in the hands or feet.

As a result, vitamin B12 deficiency can impact the quality of life of older adults. The best way to find out if you are low in B12 is to have a blood test. It is important to ensure that it is treated before permanent damage occurs.

Where do we get our vitamin B12 from?

We get B12 from eating meats, eggs, and dairy products. Health Canada recommends that anyone over the age of 14 get 2.4 micrograms per day—a tiny but important amount. Studies show that older adults are generally eating enough B12, yet about 1 in 4 have a vitamin B12 deficiency.

This could be because as we age, our bodies are less able to take up the vitamin B12 we eat. That is especially true when certain medications are taken, such as antacids. More research is needed on how the need for vitamin B12 changes with age.

How can we make sure we are getting enough B12?

The good news: it is generally thought that you can’t eat too much vitamin B12. It is safe to eat much more than the recommended daily allowance. Some studies show that foods fortified with B12 are more likely to result in adequate intake. Some examples of vitamin B12-fortified foods are cold breakfast cereals, soy milk, or other non-dairy milks. Check the side of the box or carton to see how much vitamin B12 is in a serving.

Why we need more vitamin B12 as we age?

If you’re concerned that you might not be getting enough vitamin B12, ask your doctor for a blood test to check your B12 level.

Vitamin B12 supplements are fairly cheap and widely available in drug stores. They come in many different doses. Your doctor or pharmacist can help you decide on the right dose for you.

About the Author

Kaylen Pfisterer, BSc (Biomedical Science) is an RIA Research Associate and the Assistant Research Coordinator at the Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging*. Kaylen has vitamin B12 deficiency which prompted her ongoing Masters work in Kinesiology at the University of Waterloo where she is working with Professor Heather Keller (Schlegel Research Chair in Nutrition and Aging) and Dr. George Heckman (Schlegel Research Chair in Geriatric Medicine) to investigate vitamin B12 status and its impact on overall health in older adults living in long-term care.

*The Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging (RIA) is a not-for-profit organization whose aim is to enhance the quality of life and care of older adults through partnerships in research, education and practice. For more information go to: https://the-ria.ca/

The Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging (RIA)  University of Waterloo

Click Here for print PDF file – Healthy Eating – Why we need more vitamin B12 as we age?