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Vitamin D and brain health

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Vitamin D is essential for maintaining a balance of calcium in the body, as it increases the absorption of dietary calcium in the intestines.1 Your body can get vitamin D from a variety of sources. Spending time in sunlight is a major source of vitamin D, and so are certain foods like fish.

Vitamin D deficiency poses serious health concerns, causing rickets in children as well as osteoporosis and osteomalacia in adults.1 These conditions are characterized by a weakening of bones. Researchers have also proposed that levels of vitamin D may be related to the health of your brain.

Brain health and vitamin D

A recent study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition investigated the association between vitamin D and brain health.Participants from England, Wales and Scotland aged 37 to 73 were included in this prospective observational study.2

Concentrations of vitamin D varied across participants, depending on different social factors, physical activity, sun protection use, and more. Participants who spent longer hours outdoors during the summer tended to have higher levels of vitamin D.2 Concentrations of vitamin D were also higher in participants who used vitamin supplements.2

Research has suggested that low levels of vitamin D are associated with higher risks of dementia and stroke.2 Lower brain volumes detected by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) were associated with these health risks.2 These results demonstrate the importance of treating and preventing deficiencies in vitamin D as soon as they are recognized.

Vitamin D may improve the health of your brain by protecting it from inflammatory damage.2-4 At the moment, evidence from clinical trials on using vitamin D supplementation to prevent stroke and dementia is limited.2 Future trials with more patients are encouraged to further investigate the relationship between low vitamin D and poor brain outcomes, to improve our understanding of managing vitamin D deficiencies.

A recent survey conducted in the United Kingdom found that over half of the adult population had insufficient levels of vitamin D.5,6 People who are of older age, have kidney or liver problems, take antiviral drugs, or are obese may be more prone to vitamin D deficiency.5 It is important to consult your health care provider for any concerns you may have about vitamin D deficiency.

References

  1. Holick MF. Vitamin D: A millenium perspective. J Cell Biochem. 2003;88(2):296-307. doi:10.1002/JCB.10338
  2. Navale SS, Mulugeta A, Zhou A, Llewellyn DJ, Hyppönen E. Vitamin D and brain health: an observational and Mendelian randomization study. Am J Clin Nutr. Published online April 22, 2022. doi:10.1093/ajcn/nqac107
  3. Annweiler C, Dursun E, Féron F, et al. “Vitamin D and cognition in older adults”: Updated international recommendations. J Intern Med. 2015;277(1):45-57. doi:10.1111/joim.12279
  4. Gold J, Shoaib A, Gorthy G, Grossberg GT. The role of vitamin D in cognitive disorders in older adults. Eur Neurol Rev. 2018;14(1):41-46. doi:10.17925/usn.2018.14.1.41
  5. Pearce SHS, Cheetham TD. Diagnosis and management of vitamin D deficiency. BMJ. 2010;340(7738):142-147. doi:10.1136/bmj.b5664
  6. Hyppönen E, Power C. Hypovitaminosis D in British adults at age 45 y: nationwide cohort study of dietary and lifestyle predictors. Am J Clin Nutr 2007;85:860-8.

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