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The Vitamin D Brain Health Breakthrough

Natural Factors
A cropped view of a senior man playing with puzzles.

We spend our whole lives building memories. From big milestones, like weddings and grandchildren, to the smaller things like hearing the perfect song on the radio during a long drive, we all have our favorite moments in time that we hold near and dear. Unfortunately, as we age, there is a chance that these memories will fade because of  age-related cognitive function changes*

With advancing age the ability to think, remember, and communicate can change. These changes potentially rob us of our loved ones before their time and leaves families scrambling to take on the role of caregiver. If you’re familiar with this scenario, you’ve probably also heard that there is no cure. Unfortunately, this is still true. However, there is some good news emerging around brain health, with evidence pointing to a simple way to help maintain cognitive function.

In a world-first study, researchers found a direct link  vitamin D and brain health*. The ground-breaking science from the University of South Australia shows a strong causal relationship between low vitamin D blood levels and impaired brain health.* Based on data from almost 295,000 participants in the UK, the study revealed that insufficient vitamin D is associated with lower brain volume and cognitive health. *. Researchers estimate that in some populations, as much as 17 % by increasing vitamin D to normal levels. [1] While previous research showed a link between low vitamin D levels and  cognitive health, this is the first large-scale investigation to provide concrete evidence that vitamin D is essential for long-term brain health.*   
Vitamin D and Dementia - woman with doctor

Are You at Risk? 

What does this mean for you? It means it may be time to get your vitamin D levels checked by your naturopathic doctor or health care practitioner if you fall under the following list of people who are at a higher risk for vitamin D deficiency:  

  • Postmenopausal people 
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding people 
  • Seniors, particularly those who are homebound or in nursing homes [3]  
  • People with darker skin tones  
  • People with mobility issues 
  • People on long-term steroid therapy 
  • People living north of the 37th parallel, especially in winter [4] (According to one report from 2010, 70–97% of Canadians have suboptimal levels of vitamin D, and many could have “profoundly deficient levels.” [2]) 

With most Canadians being at risk for low levels of vitamin D, why is this study considered positive? Because the good news is, low levels of vitamin D and vitamin D deficiency can be easily remedied.  

In this new study, participants  had concentrations of 25(OH)D below 50 nmol/L. The study authors suggest that people whose vitamin D levels fall below this critical number could benefit from vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D is difficult to come by in food. Fatty, cold-water fish and fortified dairy products contain vitamin D, but experts conclude that meeting vitamin D needs through diet is rarely possible. [5] Getting more of the “sunshine vitamin” from sun exposure can also be a challenge for people with limited mobility or who live in areas where the sun just isn’t strong enough most of the year. Vitamin D supplements are a simple, inexpensive way to get vitamin D levels up to sufficient levels.  

Pouring vitamin D capsules into hand.

The recommended daily intake of vitamin D for adults is 20mcg/800 IU. [6] Get your vitamin D levels checked to see if this amount helps you reach the 50 nmol/L minimum target. Consider taking a supplement if you are at risk of being low in vitamin D.  

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Natural Factors
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References
  1. Navale SS, Mulugeta A, Zhou A, et al. Vitamin D and brain health: An observational and Mendelian randomization study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2022; 116(2):531-40. 
  2. Schwalfenberg GK, Genuis SJ, & Hiltz MN. Addressing vitamin D deficiency in Canada: A public health innovation whose time has come. Public Health. 2010; 124(6):350-9.  
  3. Parva NR, Tadepalli S, Singh P, et al. Prevalence of vitamin D deficiency and associated risk factors in the US population (2011-2012). Cureus. 2018; 10(6):e2741.  
  4. Wickham R. Cholecalciferol and cancer: Is it a big D3-eal? J Adv Pract Oncol. 2012; 3(4):249-57.  
  5. Aoun A, Maalouf J, Fahed M, et al. (2020). When and how to diagnose and treat vitamin D deficiency in adults: A practical and clinical update. J Diet Suppl. 2020; 17(3):336-54.  
  6. Health Canada. Vitamin D and calcium: Updated dietary reference intakes. [Updated 2020 July 28]. Available from: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/healthy-eating/vitamins-minerals/vitamin-calcium-updated-dietary-reference-intakes-nutrition.html