'I'm a Longevity Expert, and This Is the One Vitamin I'm Begging Everyone Over 50 to Get More Of'

It's not exactly breaking news that most of us could benefit from consuming more vitamins. However, no matter how often we've heard it from doctors, dietitians and even our parents (remember those dinnertime nag sessions to eat carrots?), getting enough vitamins can be a challenge—but a challenge worth accepting.

"Vitamins play various roles in bodily function, including metabolism, immune function and cellular repair," says Dr. Kevin Cooke, MD, a board-certified primary care physician specializing in longevity medicine and brain performance. "Ensuring adequate vitamin intake can help prevent chronic diseases, enhance physical and cognitive performance and promote overall well-being, which collectively contribute to a longer, healthier life."

The last part—a longer, healthier life—may be your top goal. Chronic disease risk goes up as we age, and Dr. Cooke says getting enough of one specific vitamin after your 50th birthday can be super helpful, though many people aren't getting enough of it.

Related: 'I'm a Longevity Expert, and This Is the One Vitamin People Over 50 Should Stop Taking ASAP'

The Best Vitamin for People Over 50, According to a Longevity Expert

Vitamin D is Dr. Cooke's No. 1 pick for the 50+ crowd. "Vitamin D is crucial for maintaining bone health, supporting immune function and reducing inflammation," Dr. Cooke says. "Vitamin D has been shown to be helpful in depression, increasing testosterone, bone health, brain health and cognition, mood improvement and well-being."

All of these things can help a person lead a healthier, happier life. Plus, mood, cognitive function and bone health are among the things that can decline as we age. The importance of vitamin D for people as they age isn't just Dr. Cooke's opinion.

"There have been some studies that show low vitamin D levels are linked to an increased all-cause mortality rate in general and elderly populations," Dr. Cooke says.

Dr. Cooke isn't wrong. A 2023 study pointed to data showing that 20% of middle-aged and older adults in the U.S. were vitamin D deficient, something that increased their risk of all-cause mortality.

2022 study of Chinese adults ages 60 to 113 years old found that people who weren't vitamin D deficient (or were previously but were now getting enough) had lower death risks. The difference was especially noticeable in females.

Oh, and another study published in 2022 of more than 307,000 people ages 37 to 73 found a causal link between vitamin D deficiency and premature death risk.

Related: Can You Get Vitamin D Through a Window? Doctors Explain Whether You Can Absorb Any of the Sunshine Vitamin Through Glass

How Much Vitamin D You Need And How to Get More of It

The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements recommends that people 51 to 70 years old consume 15 mcg (600 IU) of vitamin D per day. That number increases to 20 mcg (800 IU) daily after the big 7-0.

However, Dr. Cooke notes that some recent research has found that the current vitamin D recommendations may not be enough. Two such studies, presented at the American Heart Association’s 2023 Scientific Sessions, suggested that some people may need more, especially for heart health.

Yet, it's also possible to go overboard with vitamin D consumption. "Due to the fat-soluble nature of vitamin D, you can take too much and reach toxic levels, leading to elevated calcium, which can be dangerous," Dr. Cooke says. "The current recommendations state doses higher than 4,000 IU can be toxic."

Your doctor can help you determine whether you are vitamin D deficient through bloodwork. If your levels are below the recommended marks, you can add vitamin D to your diet in various ways.

"Sources of vitamin D include fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines and mackerel, which are also high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to be very good for brain health," Dr. Cooke says. "Other foods, such as egg yolks and fortified foods such as milk, are high in vitamin D."

There's another way to get vitamin D: go outside. "The body produces vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight, especially UV B rays," Dr. Cooke says. "So, those that have less sunlight exposure [or live in] colder climates can be at risk for vitamin D deficiency."

Related: Should You Be Taking a Multivitamin? 

Other Vitamins the 50+ Crowd Definitely Needs to Get Enough Of

There's no magic source to help you live a longer life (unfortunately). When it comes to diet, consuming a well-balanced one is best. The good news? Variety is the spice of life, and consuming foods with these vital vitamins can be a delicious way to support your health and longevity. Dr. Cooke advises people 50+ to make sure they are getting plenty of:

  • Vitamin C to support immune function and skin health (oranges and strawberries)

  • Vitamin E, which acts as an antioxidant to boost skin health (almonds and sunflower seeds)

  • Vitamin K for blood clot prevention and bone health (kale and spinach)

  • B vitamins (B12, B6 and folate) for energy production, red blood cell formation and brain health (meat, leafy greens and legumes)

  • Magnesium to bolster muscle and nerve function, blood pressure regulation and energy production (nuts, spinach and black beans)

If you lack any of these vitamins, your doctor will likely recommend consuming more of these foods before supplementing. Dr. Cooke says there's a reason for that: bioavailability.

"Nutrients are better absorbed when taken through whole foods," Dr. Cooke says. "Whole foods provide a source of balanced vitamins, minerals and other essential compounds that we need. Sometimes, we also fall into the trap of taking a supplement or vitamin to compensate for poor food choices throughout the day."

However, you may require vitamin supplementation in some instances. "First and foremost, consult your physician," Dr. Cooke says. "Also, check for quality and avoid taking too much."

If you are deficient in any vitamins or minerals, your doctor can help you determine the best path forward for you.

Next: The #1 Best Food To Help Combat Fatigue for People Over 50, According to Registered Dietitians

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