Vitamin D, sometimes called “the sunshine vitamin,” is necessary for building strong bones, and lowers the risk of high blood pressure, certain cancers and problems with the immune system. Studies have shown that consuming adequate vitamin D lowers the risk of falls, improves mobility and even leads to a longer life.
This year, researchers from University of California Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Center and Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences revealed that vitamin D also appears to help slow the development of memory and thinking problems.
Over the course of eight years, the researchers tested the levels of vitamin D in a diverse group of older adults, and also tracked their cognitive abilities. Researcher Charles DeCarli of the UC Alzheimer’s Disease Center reports, “We expected to see declines in individuals with low vitamin D status. What was unexpected was how profoundly and rapidly [low vitamin D] impacts cognition.”
Indeed, the researchers found that people who were deficient in vitamin D showed cognitive declines two to three times faster than those with adequate vitamin D! Professor Joshua Miller says, “Independent of race or ethnicity, baseline cognitive abilities and a host of other risk factors, vitamin D insufficiency was associated with significantly faster declines in both episodic memory and executive function performance.”
We can get a certain amount of vitamin D from the foods we eat. Egg yolks, fatty fish and mushrooms are some of the naturally occurring sources, and other foods may also be fortified with vitamin D, such as milk, cheese, juice and cereal. We also soak in vitamin D from sun exposure. But during the cooler months of the year, the latter is a challenge for most of us. Even in the summer, most of us limit our sun exposure to avoid raising the risk of skin cancer, so supplements may be recommended.
The researchers note that elderly African Americans and Hispanics are at particularly high risk of vitamin D deficiency. People with more pigment in their skin absorb less of the nutrient from the sun. African American and Hispanic seniors also on average consume fewer dairy products, the other main source of vitamin D.
Miller, who was a professor with the UC Davis Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the time that the research was conducted, and now serves as professor and chair of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Rutgers University, says that the results of this study should encourage people in their 60s and older to discuss taking a daily vitamin D supplement with their healthcare provider. Vitamin D is stored in the body’s fat, so taking too much can allow dangerous levels to build up, making it important to discuss our vitamin D intake with our healthcare provider.
DeCarli says, “This is a vitamin deficiency that could easily be treated and that has other health consequences. We need to start talking about it. And we need to start talking about it, particularly for people of color, for whom vitamin D deficiency appears to present an even greater risk.”
Source: AgeWise reporting on news releases from University of California Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Center and Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences