Low Levels of Vitamin D Linked to Cognitive Impairment in Older Adults

Vitamin D

Research on vitamin D and its contribution to health has been seen in the news quite a bit lately. It’s come to light that vitamin D affects the overall functioning of various systems in the body. New research from a study conducted by scientists at the University of Cambridge and the University of Michigan links low levels of vitamin D to cognitive impairment in older adults.

Impact of Vitamin D

Let’s take a look at what good levels of vitamin D can contribute in terms of health versus what can be affected when levels are low. Research has shown that vitamin D can reduce the risk of type 1 diabetes and certain forms of cancer. We also know that deficiencies in vitamin D have been attributed to muscle weakness, bone problems like osteoporosis, compromised immunity, as well as some cancers and cardiovascular diseases.

We get vitamin D from certain foods in our diet like oily fish and fortified milk or cereal. But the average diet does not provide enough of the vitamin.

Vitamin D is often called “the sunshine vitamin” because it is absorbed into our skin through exposure to the sun’s rays. In fact, recent studies have shown that using too much sunscreen is inhibiting our levels of vitamin D.

As our bodies get older, our skin’s ability to absorb vitamin D from sunshine declines. It makes sense that as we age, we should talk to our physician about adding a vitamin D supplement to our routine.

Dementia Connection

The recent study by Cambridge and Michigan researchers, published in the Journal of Geriatric Psychology and Neurology, looked at nearly 2000 adults over age 65. “The study found that as levels of vitamin D went down, levels of cognitive impairment went up.” High levels of cognitive impairment are known to lead to dementia. The subjects with the lowest levels of vitamin D were over two times as likely to be dealing with cognitive impairment.

This significant finding led the researchers to establish a significant relationship between levels of vitamin D and brain function, however, they do admit that more research needs to be done in this area in order to determine recommendations for the public.

What It Means

Despite the inconclusive results related to brain function, we do know that vitamin D is beneficial to many of the body’s systems and to the development of strong bones. So, in the meantime, it’s recommended that older adult take action to make sure they are getting sufficient amounts.

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Regardless of age, you can ask your physician for a 25(OH)D blood test. This simple test can determine the levels of vitamin D in your body.. If you are found to be deficient, increasing your intake of foods containing vitamin D and spending about 15 minutes outside each day that the weather allows will help. Because it’s difficult to get the amount you need in these ways alone, it’s likely that you’ll also be advised to take a vitamin D supplement. Experts recommend adults take at least 1000 International Units (IU’s) of vitamin D each day to supplement their diets.

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Studies have shown that adults over age 65 who take a supplement of 700 to 1000 IU’s  of vitamin D reduced their risk of falling by almost 20%. That’s reason enough to consider taking a supplement. Combined with other scientific research and the information contained in the recent study on brain function, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about your levels of vitamin D, especially if you, or a loved one, are over age 65 and live in a northern region or area with few days of sunlight.

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