The importance of vitamin D in disease prevention is well-documented. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to numerous conditions, including some cancers, cardiovascular disease and urinary tract infections. Now, scientists linked vitamin D deficiency with a substantially increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in older people. The research findings are very valuable and open up fresh possibilities in this area of health care and prevention.
Dementia is a chronic and progressive syndrome. It’s an umbrella term, under which several diseases and conditions are classified. The most prevalent type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Other common types include vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy Bodies and fronto-temporal dementia. There are over 35.6 million people living with dementia worldwide, and a new case emerges every 7 seconds.
The dementia study published in Neurology was conducted by an international team of researchers. 1,658 adults aged 65 and over were included in the study and followed over a period of six years. The participants had to be able to walk unaided and were free from dementia, cardiovascular disease and stroke at the start of the study. It was discovered that adults who were moderately deficient in vitamin D (their vitamin D levels were between 25 and 50 nanomoles per liter) had a 53% increased risk of developing dementia of any kind. The risk increased to 125% in those who were severely deficient (their vitamin D levels were below 25). For Alzheimer’s disease, the risk was 69% higher for those who were moderately deficient, and 122% higher for the severely deficient group.
Previous studies have established that there is a connection between low vitamin D levels and development of cognitive problems, but this is the first and most robust study that showed the significant risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in people with vitamin D deficiency.
One of the researchers, Dr. David Llewellyn from the University of Exeter Medical School, points out that further clinical studies are needed to establish if eating vitamin D rich foods or taking supplements could indeed delay or even prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
To get sufficient amounts of vitamin D, you either need to spend enough time in the sun to synthesize it in the skin, take a supplement or you can get it with food, such as fish oil, eggs and fortified foods . Older people find it hard to produce enough of this vitamin, which might make them more susceptible to different diseases. Experts say that it’s difficult to get enough vitamin D from food alone, unless you’re a lover of fatty fish. With sun, it’s hard to quantify how much sun is enough, and in many countries the amount of UVB radiation in winter is too low to allow vitamin D production. That’s why many people reach for vitamin D supplements.
Getting enough vitamin D might not necessarily protect you from developing dementia, but it could definitely be a step in the right direction.