Vitamin D and Calcium – Time to change the dietary requirements?

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The UK may need to review its recommendations on calcium and vitamin D intake for older people, says an ILC-UK report “Older people and functional foods” [1].

Vitamin D and calcium are vital for bone health, something of great importance to older people, especially postmenopausal women who are at risk of osteoporosis, a condition in which bone mass decreases leaving the person at risk of falls and fractures. There is also increasing evidence for the role of vitamin D in immune health and some evidence for its role in protecting older people from cardiovascular disease.

Calcium and vitamin D can both be obtained from the diet and vitamin D can also be obtained through exposure to sunlight. However, many older people do not manage to obtain sufficient levels of the nutrients from their diet and do not spend enough time in the sun to obtain sufficient vitamin D.

It is no surprise therefore that older people are more likely to suffer from vitamin D and calcium deficiency. This is due not only to dietary intake but also to ageing related decreases in the efficiency of the body to absorb calcium and a decreasing ability of the skin to synthesise vitamin D from the sun.

Improving calcium and vitamin D intake could involve food supplements, functional foods such as calcium and vitamin D enriched fruit juice and fortified breakfast cereal, or simply spending more time in the sun. However, a beach holiday abroad is not really necessary; it is possible to obtain the vitamin D we need from the British sun.

Current dietary recommendations for older people (based on the 1992 Committee on the Medicinal Aspects of Food recommendations) advise a daily intake of 700 milligrams of calcium and 10 micrograms of vitamin D. However, a number of advisory bodies including the National Nutrition Council of Finland [3] and the prestigious Institute of Medicine (IOM) [3] in the USA now suggest a higher intake of both calcium and vitamin D for older people, typically 1200 milligrams of calcium and 25 micrograms of vitamin D. A review of the UK recommendations would therefore seem highly appropriate.

Rebecca Taylor

[1] “Older people and functional foods – The importance of diet in supporting older people’s health; what role for functional foods?” http://www.ilcuk.org.uk/files/pdf_pdf_152.pdf

[2] http://www.ravitsemusneuvottelukunta.fi/portal/en/national_nutrition_council/

[3] http://templatelab.com/Dietary-Reference-Intakes-for-Calcium-and-Vitamin-D/

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