Seniors who don't get enough vitamin D in their diets could be putting themselves at risk for developing diabetes. A recent study found that older adults with low levels of this vitamin are more likely to develop metabolic syndrome, a condition that increases the risk of diabetes. The study, at VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, included some 1,300 white men and women who were 65 and older. Researchers learned that nearly half were deficient in vitamin D and close to 37 percent had metabolic syndrome.

"Because the metabolic syndrome increases the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, an adequate Vitamin D level in the body might be important in the prevention of these diseases," wrote study co-author Marelise Eekhoff, MD, PH.D.

So should we all start supplementing vitamin D? Don't we get enough just by being out in the sun? Here, some fast facts on the sunshine vitamin, from Spyros Mezitis, MD, Ph.D., attending endocrinologist and clinical investigator at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, Harmeet Narula, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York,  and Kent Holtorf, MD, medical director for the Holtorf Medical Group in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

1. Insufficient vitamin D levels can lead to insulin resistance, Narula says.

2. Insufficient vitamin D can make you more prone to a variety of immune disorders, Narula says.

3. If you don't get enough vitamin D, you can't properly absorb calcium, which is important not just for bones but for nerves and muscles, too. Adequate calcium is necessary for proper insulin production as well.  "If there is not enough calcium in the cells in the body, than you can't make enough insulin," Mezitis explains. "And if the insulin isn't present in the blood in sufficient quantities, then you can't get the sugar out of the blood and into the nerve cells, brain cells and muscle cells."

4. The best way to find out if you are deficient in vitamin D is to get a simple blood test at your doctor's office.

5.  To get enough vitamin D, eat plenty of fortified dairy products, fish, fish oil and egg yolks, recommends Mezitis. You can also take vitamin D supplements: he recommends about 3,000 IU daily for people who are low in the vitamin.

6. If you live in the North where there's not much sunlight in the winter, take a D supplement, recommends Narula.  

7. Check with your health care provider before taking supplements. Too much vitamin D can result in an irregular heartbeat, poor concentration and hair loss, Mezitis says.

8. The most fun way to get vitamin D? Get outside and spend some time in the sunshine!


"Low Vitamin D linked to metabolic syndrome in seniors." By Stephen Daniels. 2 July 2010.

"Low Vitamin D linked to the metabolic syndrome in elderly people."  2 July 2010. Medical News Today.