An estimated 55 million people worldwide live with dementia, a number that’s expected to rise as the global population ages.
To find treatments that can slow or stop the disease, scientists need to better understand the factors that can cause dementia.
In a study from Tufts University, scientists found the brain can function better with more vitamin D.
They examined levels of vitamin D in brain tissue, specifically in adults who suffered from varying rates of cognitive decline.
The team found that members of this group with higher levels of vitamin D in their brains had a better cognitive function.
Vitamin D supports many functions in the body, including immune responses and maintaining healthy bones.
Dietary sources include fatty fish and fortified beverages (such as milk or orange juice); brief exposure to sunlight also provides a dose of vitamin D.
In the study, the team examined samples of brain tissue from 209 participants in the Rush Memory and Aging Project, a long-term study of Alzheimer’s disease that began in 1997.
The researchers looked for vitamin D in four regions of the brain—two associated with changes linked to Alzheimer’s disease, one associated with forms of dementia linked to blood flow, and one region without any known associations with cognitive decline related to Alzheimer’s disease or vascular disease.
They found that vitamin D was indeed present in brain tissue, and high vitamin D levels in all four regions of the brain correlated with better cognitive function.
However, the levels of vitamin D in the brain didn’t link to any of the physiological markers associated with Alzheimer’s disease in the brain studied, including amyloid plaque buildup, Lewy body disease, or evidence of chronic or microscopic strokes.
This means it’s still unclear exactly how vitamin D might affect brain function.
The team says dementia is multifactorial, and lots of the pathological mechanisms underlying it have not been well characterized. Vitamin D could be related to outcomes.
They hope their work leads to a better understanding of the role vitamin D may play in staving off dementia.
However, experts caution people not to use large doses of vitamin D supplements as a preventive measure.
The recommended dose of vitamin D is 600 IU for people 1-70 years old, and 800 IU for those older—excessive amounts can cause harm and have been linked to the risk of falling.
If you care about dementia, please read studies about how the Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health, and Vitamin B supplements could help reduce dementia risk.
For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about new way to treat Parkinson’s disease, and results showing flavonoid-rich foods could improve survival in Parkinson’s disease.
The study was conducted by Sarah Booth et al and published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia.
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