The vitamin that’s integral to ageing gracefully

Vitamin D is an essential vitamin that plays a role in many different bodily functions. It helps to keep bones healthy and strong, to absorb calcium and prevent conditions such as osteoporosis.

Vitamin D also helps to keep the immune system healthy and may protect against some types of cancer. In addition to these important functions, vitamin D may play a role in graceful ageing and longevity.

How vitamin D supports graceful ageing and longevity

Antioxidant activity

‘Antioxidant’ is a general term for any compound that can counteract unstable molecules called free radicals that damage DNA, cell membranes, and other parts of cells. Free radicals lack a full complement of electrons so they steal electrons from other molecules, damaging those molecules in the process. Antioxidants neutralise free radicals by giving up some of their own electrons. In making this sacrifice, they act as a natural ‘off’ switch for the free radicals. This helps break a chain reaction that can affect other molecules in the cell and other cells in the body. It is important to recognise that the term ‘antioxidant’ reflects a chemical property rather than a specific nutritional property.

Read: Vitamin D deficiency linked to dementia: study

Maintaining healthy vitamin D levels promotes graceful ageing by helping to regulate antioxidant activity, balance mitochondrial function and combat oxidative stress.

Controlling inflammation

University of South Australia researchers have discovered a breakthrough link between vitamin D and controlling inflammation.

They found a direct link between low levels of vitamin D and high levels of inflammation. The research will be used to identify people at higher risk, or severity, chronic illness caused by inflammation such as rheumatoid arthritis.

The study complements a previous University of South Australia study that found evidence of vitamin D deficiency in cardiovascular disease.

Inflammation almost always brings forth images of pain and suffering, but it’s not all bad.

Inflammation is also the process where your body’s white blood cells and the things they make protect you from infection from outside invaders such as bacteria and viruses.

The problem is that inflammation can be triggered even though there are no invaders to fight off. This is called autoimmune disease where your immune system acts as if tissue is somehow infected, causing damage. Such diseases include diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

Read: There are different types of vitamin D, but which is best?

Lead researcher Dr Ang Zhou said the findings suggested that boosting vitamin D in people with a deficiency may reduce chronic inflammation.

“Inflammation is your body’s way of protecting your tissues if you’ve been injured or have an infection,” Dr Zhou says.

“High levels of C-reactive protein are generated by the liver in response to inflammation, so when your body is experiencing chronic inflammation, it also shows higher levels of C-reactive protein.

“This study examined vitamin D and C-reactive proteins and found a one-way relationship between low levels of vitamin D and high levels of C-reactive protein, expressed as inflammation.

“Boosting vitamin D in people with deficiencies may reduce chronic inflammation, helping them avoid a number of related diseases.”

DNA protection

One way to measure the rate of cellular ageing and overall longevity is by looking at telomere length. Telomeres are sequences of proteins that protect the ends of DNA strands from damage. When it comes to longevity, longer telomeres help protect DNA and buffer oxidative stress.

Vitamin D plays a role in increasing the activity of the telomerase enzyme, which helps maintain telomere length and strength. A 2017 study found a positive association between vitamin D sufficiency and telomere length, which indicates that getting adequate vitamin D is important for maintaining genomic integrity and longevity.

Read: Here’s why it’s tough to get enough vitamin D from the sun

How to get vitamin D

The easiest and most natural way to improve your vitamin D intake is to spend more time in the sun. The human body needs UV radiation from the sun to produce vitamin D, but as the body can absorb only a limited amount of vitamin D at a time, more sun does not mean more vitamin D, probably only more risk of skin cancer, so keep an eye on your time outdoors.

Other good sources of vitamin D are fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel, oysters, eggs (especially the yolks), mushrooms, foods fortified with supplements, and supplements themselves. If you live in an environment with very little sun, a UV lamp may be helpful.

Do you take vitamin D supplements? Do you get your levels checked? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Ellie Baxter
Ellie Baxter
Writer and editor with interests in travel, health, wellbeing and food. Has knowledge of marketing psychology, social media management and is a keen observer and commentator on issues facing older Australians.


  1. Vitamin D is involved in immune responses to infection and viruses. So you have missed the important one, Vitamin D protects against the effects of Covid – doesn’t stop one from catching Covid but minimises the effects. Plenty of evidence from Europe and USA on this. Hospitals in Spain and UK have shown that giving Covid patients 4000IU of Vitamin D kept them out of ICU and off ventilators. People think they get enough Vitamin D but in the USA 50% of the population are low on Vitamin D and those that were suboptimal had worse outcomes from Covid. African Americans with dark skin had much worse Covid outcomes and their Vitamin D levels would be much lower. It is likely that people in Victoria and Tasmania are low on Vitamin D in winter as it is too cold to sunbathe. Don’t use a UV lamp, more likely to get burnt of overdo the dose and get skin cancer – Vitamin D supplement is the way to go.

    • No need to sunbathe. Cancer Council states:

      “For most people, adequate vitamin D levels are reached through regular incidental exposure to the sun. When the UV Index is 3 or above (such as during summer), most people maintain adequate vitamin D levels just by spending a few minutes outdoors on most days of the week.

      In late autumn and winter in some southern parts of Australia, when the UV Index falls below 3, spend time outdoors in the middle of the day with some skin uncovered. Being physically active (e.g. gardening or going for a brisk walk) also helps boost vitamin D levels.”

      And this exposure needs to be without sunscreen when UV factor is below 3 and just a few minutes on most days.

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