Vitamin D More than Just the Sunshine Vitamin
Can Vitamin D help you think?
What is vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that serves as a hormone important for regulating calcium and immune function. Vitamin D is important for healthy bones and may reduce hypertension, psoriasis, and play a role in prevention for some cancers. Read the accompanying article on vitamin D for more information on this vitamin, food sources, supplementation and bone health.
But what about vitamin D and cognitive function?
This is an emerging area of interest for many researchers. Three studies published in 2009 looked at the possible association between vitamin D and cognition. One study showed no relationship, while two of the studies suggested a relationship. Dr. Katherine Tucker, PhD of Tufts University found that low vitamin D levels increased the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and other dementia in elderly. Dr. Cedric Annweiler, MD at Angers University in France showed that low vitamin D levels were associated with lower cognitive testing scores in women over the age of 75years. However another study performed by the University of Minnesota found no difference between cognitive scores in men with low versus higher vitamin D levels. It is important to remember that change in diet, sun exposure, travel, depression (may lead to more time indoors) and use of sun screen or other skin protection can affect vitamin D levels and these activities could be different in people with cognitive problems. If so, the association of vitamin D and cognitive function could be an indirect one and not related to the action of the vitamin on our bodies nerve and cell functions.
A recent study published Dec 2010 is the first to show lower vitamin D levels are associated with greater cogntive decline inolder adults measured over a 6 year period.
Vitamin D levels and Brain function.
The accompanying article on vitamin D describes the finding of lower levels of vitamin D in people with Parkinson’s. Vitamin D is activated not only in the body and but also the brain suggesting that this vitamin plays a key role in brain health. One hypothesis is that vitamin D helps regulate inflammation in the brain. However, given the mixed research it is still not clear if vitamin D truly affects brain function.
Are there practical recommendations that a person with Parkinson’s disease can follow?
There are many practical reasons to pay attention to your vitamin D levels. Healthy bones
lead to lower risk of bone
fracture from falls- an important concern in Parkinson’s. Other areas of potential benefit for vitamin D iclude heart health, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke.
A blood test measuring levels in your body may be needed to measure the effect of supplements since vitamin D is stored in our body’s fat tissue, can accumulate to toxic levels if take in excess.
- Talk to your doctor before taking a vitamin D supplement
- Consider having your vitamin D level (blood test) checked especially if you are in a group at high risk for vitamin D or calcium deficiency
- Recheck your levels after treatment to insure safe and adequate levels are achieved.
- Be active outdoors.
References: Neurology 2009. 74: 27-32, 33-41.
Arch Neurology 2010. 67:1513
Author: Monique Giroux, MD Medical Director of NWPF