50+ health

Older people need to get out in the sun

Older people may need to get more sunshine. Dont we all! Vitamin D deficiency linked to metabolic disease

Spending more time in the sun could lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes in older people, according to research published in the journal, Diabetes Care.

Older people are more likely to have a vitamin D deficiency due to the natural aging process and changes in lifestyle, and sunlight can stimulate the skin to produce this important vitamin.

Vitamin D deficiency takes place when vitamin D levels in the blood drop to 12ng/ml (nanograms/millilitre) or less. The normal level of vitamin D in the blood is usually around 25-50ng/ml.

Researchers at the University of Warwick have shown vitamin D deficiency is significantly associated with metabolic syndrome, a combination of medical and metabolic disorders that increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

The research team, led by Dr Oscar Franco at Warwick Medical School, investigated the association between vitamin D levels in the blood and the prevalence of metabolic syndrome in 3,262 people aged 50-70 years old in China.

The scientists discovered that 94% of volunteers had a vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency. They also found that 42.3% of these people also had metabolic syndrome.

The results of the study are similar to other research carried out in Western populations, leading Dr Franco to suggest that vitamin D deficiency could become a global health problem.

Dr.Franco said:

"Vitamin D deficiency is becoming a condition that is causing a large burden of disease across the globe with particular deleterious impact among the elderly. Our results are consistent with those found in British and American populations. We found that low vitamin D levels were associated with an increased risk of having metabolic syndrome, and was also significantly associated with increased insulin resistance."

He added:

“As we get older our skin is less efficient at forming vitamin D and our diet may also become less varied, with a lower natural vitamin D content. Most importantly, however, the dermal production of vitamin D following a standard exposure to UVB light decreases with age because of atrophic skin changes. When we are older we may need to spend more time outdoors to stimulate the same levels of vitamin D we had when we were younger.”

Dr Franco stressed that further research between vitamin D, metabolic syndrome and the link with older people is required.

This article was published on Mon 11 May 2009

Image © Deklofenak - Fotolia.com

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