Dementia and Vitamin D Deficiency: Is There a Link?

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In what should be considered the first large scale study of its kind, a team of scientists discovered a clear link between vitamin D blood levels and the risk of dementia. Those who do not get sufficient levels of vitamin D can more than double their risk of dementia, especially as they grow older.

Dementia is a term loosely used to describe persons who have problems with various brain disorders that affect their thinking, memory, and language abilities. Alzheimer’s disease is the most well-known and common disorder under the umbrella term of dementia. This disease is the 6th leading cause of death in America and is thought to affect about 5 million people over the age of 65. This means that about 1 in 10 people will develop Alzheimer’s.

Vitamin D is a vital nutrient for the body’s functioning of the immune system, the absorption of calcium and phosphorus, as well as the growth and repair of bones.

This study, published in Neurology, states that deficiencies in vitamin D are linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, there are very high rates of vitamin D deficiencies in our elderly population, and they are the ones most at risk for the development of dementia.

According to the CDC, about 1/3 of the population of the United States do not get sufficient amounts of this important vitamin, and about 8 percent of the population have extremely low levels of vitamin D. This important vitamin is obtained from foods such as cheese, fatty cold water fish, milk, and eggs, along with sun exposure.

In this study, scientists tested 1,658 people over the age of 65 who were dementia free. The level of vitamin D in their blood stream was tested, and then a follow up test occurred after about 5.6 years.

In the follow up period, 171 of the subjects developed dementia in some form with 102 subjects developing Alzheimer’s. Subjects who had low levels of vitamin D were 53 percent more likely to have dementia and the subjects who had severe deficiencies were 125 percent more likely to have dementia or Alzheimer’s, compared to subjects who had normal levels of vitamin D.

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Vitamin D

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Also, test subjects who had low levels of vitamin D had a 70 percent increase in the risk of Alzheimer’s and subjects who had severe deficiencies had an increased risk of as much as 120 percent! The study authors from the University of Exeter Medical School in England, were surprised by the study results saying that the link was twice as strong as they had expected it to be.

The authors took into account variables such as smoking, education, alcohol consumption, and the results remained the same.

Clinical trials are now needed to determine if eating certain foods high in vitamin D, or taking supplements can prevent or delay the onset of dementia. This study is an important one as it’s the first large scale study done concerning dementia and vitamin D intake. Although scientists are sure why a lack of vitamin D can lead to dementia, one idea is that the brain, especially the hippocampus, is one of the first areas to show signs of dementia, and it’s literally full of vitamin D receptors.

Most people don’t believe research about the benefits of vitamin D because it seems too good to be true and too easy to be possible. However, vitamin D is vastly underrated. It has a profound action mechanism that is similar to a steroid hormone that can actually turn genes off and on. No other vitamin works in this manner. There are more than 1,000 types of genes that are directly influenced by vitamin D. Read also about Vitamin D deficiency link to prostate cancer risk.

How to be sure you get sufficient levels of this all important vitamin? Safe sun exposure, a healthy diet, combined with supplements, especially in the winter months if you live in an area that gets little sun.

Sources:

American Academy of Neurology news release, accessed 6 August 2014 via Newswise.

CDC Dementia/Alzheimer’s Disease, accessed 6 August 2014.

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