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Vitamin D supplements may be unnecessary for healthy seniors

October 17, 2013

Healthy bones play a critical role in active senior living, and many older adults believe that taking vitamin D supplements is the best way to prevent conditions such as osteoporosis. While the nutrient undoubtedly offers benefits, a new study published in the Lancet suggests that when it comes to seniors who are already healthy, taking vitamin D supplements may not be necessary.

Convincing evidence
The results come after an extensive analysis of more than 20 previously conducted studies encompassing 4,000 older adults. Researchers found that there was no substantial change in bone density for seniors who took supplements over the course of two years. The findings suggest that older adults who are generally healthy, active and don't require long-term care can maintain their bone health through more natural means - vitamin D-rich foods, regular exercise and plenty of sunlight. 

"Most healthy adults do not need vitamin D supplements," said study leader Ian Reid

Natural sources
The study certainly does not discount the important role that vitamin D plays in healthy aging, and there are many ways for older adults to add the vital nutrient to their diet other than through supplements. According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, a division of the National Institutes of Health, many popular fish including salmon, tuna, and mackerel contain high levels of vitamin D. Additionally, milk is often fortified with the nutrient, as are cereal and orange juice—all good options for older adults. Dark leafy green vegetables that are high in calcium, such as broccoli and spinach, can increase the positive benefits of vitamin D.

Many paths to healthy bones 
What you eat is not the only factor tied to bone health, and there are many proactive steps seniors can take, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Most notably, seniors should think about beginning a regimen of weight-bearing exercise if they are not already doing so. Everything from tennis and pickleball to walking and dancing can help maintain healthy bones, experts say. Seniors should also consider getting their bone mineral density tested, which can help measure the risk of osteoporosis and fractures and encourage patients to take appropriate preventative measures, the Clinic notes.