Natural sunpower is frequently unable to provide sufficient benefit . . .
Vitamin D Reduces Death Risk


Sunshine is a double-edged sword. Enough of it, on a regular basis, can help prevent depression (as in seasonal affective disorder), but too much can promote skin cancer. Sunshine can also help you make enough vitamin D, which is crucial for good health.

However, if you’re getting on in years and your levels of vitamin D are low, you may be a greater candidate for death—according to research just published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society1—and significantly so.

Vitamin D Insufficiency Is Associated with Suboptimal Health

This is especially true for you if you’re over the age of 65, and particularly if you live in a northern region, where you can rarely obtain enough sunlight to make the difference. Ask Dr. Adit A. Ginde of the University of Colorado’s Department of Emergency Medicine. He’s not only the lead author of the aforementioned paper, but also the principal author of another paper published earlier this year in the Archives of Internal Medicine surveying demographic differences and trends of vitamin D insufficiency in the U.S. population over a 16 year period.2 And what Ginde et al. found was that vitamin D insufficiency is associated with suboptimal health, at the same time that the prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency may be rising.

Your skin can produce vitamin D when directly exposed to the sun, but as we get older, we avoid the sun as our skin gets thinner and becomes more susceptible to overexposure and damage. For this and other reasons, the elderly rarely obtain sufficient sun exposure to make adequate levels of vitamin D, so supplements are necessary to achieve healthy vitamin D levels. The evidence is pointing with increased frequency to health risks from inadequate vitamin D.

In the present study, Dr. Ginde and colleagues evaluated the risk for death based on vitamin D levels, in just over 3,400 men and women who averaged 73 years old several years ago when they participated in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III). During the follow-up, which lasted 7 years, 1,493 people died (nearly 44 percent). While slightly more than half of the deaths were due to heart disease—heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the U.S.—after discounting factors that could influence the results, the researchers found that low vitamin D was independently linked to an increased risk of death from any cause, but particularly from heart disease.

You’d Appear as if You’ve Been in a
Concentration Camp

Although optimal vitamin D levels are considered to be somewhere between 80 and 110 or 120 nanomoles per liter (nmol/L) of blood, on average, people in the study had vitamin D levels of 66 nmol/L). That’s 40–45 percent lower than optimal values. Imagine what you would be like if you ate 40–45 percent of optimal nutrition levels, or 40–45 percent of optimal food levels. You’d look like a concentration camp victim!

It is amazing to report what Ginde and colleagues found. The risk of death from any cause was 83 percent higher (!) among people with vitamin D levels less than 25 nmol/L, when compared with those with vitamin D levels of 100 nmol/L or higher. And for those with vitamin D levels between 25 and 49.9 nmol/L, the risk of death was 47 percent higher, relative to those with levels of vitamin D 100 nmol/L or higher.

Insufficient Vitamin D Hard on the Heart

As already indicated, but worth reiterating, low vitamin D levels were particularly hard on the heart, with the likelihood of death from heart disease more than twice as high in people with the lowest level of vitamin D, less than 25 nmol/L.

The tragedy of this news is that these deaths are mostly preventable, due to the fact that current vitamin D recommendations for people 65 years and older are clearly inadequate to address the growing epidemic of vitamin D insufficiency. Despite Ginde and colleagues’ recommendations that large-scale research be conducted to determine the effects of higher-dose vitamin D supplementation, vitamin D supplements have been shown to be very safe and very inexpensive. The evidence is already clear. How many bodies does it take to prove a point?

1. Ginde AA, Scragg R, Schwartz RS, Camargo CA Jr. Prospective Study of Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Level, Cardiovascular Disease Mortality, and All-Cause Mortality in Older U.S. Adults. J Am Geriatr Soc 2009 Jun 22. [Epub ahead of print]
2. Ginde AA, Liu MC, Camargo CA Jr. Demographic differences and trends of vitamin D insufficiency in the US population, 1988-2004. Arch Intern Med 2009 Mar 23;169(6):626-32.

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