Life Extension Magazine®
Man running in sun absorbing vitamin D for overall health

Whole-Body Health with Vitamin D

Scientists have discovered vitamin D receptors in nearly every cell in the body that help protect the brain and heart, while increasing lifespan.

Scientifically reviewed by: Dr. Amanda Martin, DC, on January 2020. Written By Chris Fern.

When most of us first learned about vitamins, we were told one thing about vitamin D: It’s good for our bones.

And it is. But in recent years, scientists have found receptors that respond to vitamin D in nearly every cell in the body.1

There’s a reason for that. We now know that vitamin D is vital for the health of our brain and heart, for protecting against premature aging, and for holding off metabolic disorders like type II diabetes.2-6

One preclinical study even showed that vitamin D increased median lifespan by 33%.7

Researchers have also discovered that lower levels of vitamin D in the body are associated with increased risk for many age-related chronic diseases.5,8-11

In other words, getting enough vitamin D appears critical for nearly every aspect of health.

But a vast majority of adolescents and adults in the U.S. and Europe have dangerously low levels of vitamin D in their blood.12-15 Correcting this deficiency by taking 5,000 IU to 8,000 IU of vitamin D daily could help prevent age-related loss of function and many chronic diseases, and prolong a healthy life.

What’s Behind the Deficiency

Woman holding kale

In the U.S., 35% of adults are vitamin D-deficient (defined as levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D less than 20 ng/mL). This rate is even higher in the elderly and other high-risk groups, such as those with darker skin color.16

One of the main reasons is lack of sunlight.

For the body to produce vitamin D, we need direct skin exposure to sunlight. The energy from the sun is the critical ingredient that converts precursor compounds into the biologically active vitamin.

Air pollutants, smoking, and other toxins can interfere with vitamin D metabolism as well, making the problem even worse.17 And as we age, our bodies produce less vitamin D, even though we need more of it.18

Spending more time in the sun raises the risk of skin cancer and accelerated skin aging. But there’s a simple solution: increasing intake of vitamin D to boost our bodily levels.

It’s extremely difficult to get enough from food sources like fatty fish or fortified milk. Scientists have determined that supplemental doses ranging from 5,000 IU to 8,000 IU daily can bring blood levels of vitamin D up to optimal ranges associated with reduced risk for chronic disease.

plants growing in a beaker

What You Need to Know

Vitamin D’s Many Health Benefits

  • Vitamin D isn’t just good for your bones. Recent research has found that it is associated with the health of the brain and heart, and in extending healthy lifespan.

  • Low levels of vitamin D have been tied to increased risk for many common chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders, and Alzheimer’s.

  • High levels of vitamin D often correlate with improved overall health and longer life.

  • Vitamin D deficiencies are very common and increase in older age. Life Extension believes that taking 5,000 IU to 8,000 IU daily can effectively raise blood levels and improve nearly every aspect of health.

  • Regular blood testing is important to guide adjustments to these doses to achieve the maximum benefits.

Protecting the Brain

plants growing in a beaker

We’ve long known that adequate vitamin D levels are required for normal brain development.19 More recently, scientists have found that vitamin D continues to play a critical role in the brain through old age.

Cognitive decline strikes many elderly people, often culminating in Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Two of the most studied contributors to neurodegenerative disease are neuroinflammation and buildup of amyloid protein clusters.

In preclinical studies, vitamin D has been shown to prevent and clean up accumulating amyloid protein.20,21 It also supports neurogenesis, the formation of new brain cells.22

Vitamin D is also neuroprotective, helping to protect brain cells from premature aging, including the related conditions Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.23

In fact, receptors for vitamin D have been found to be widely distributed throughout the brain.24

And studies have consistently shown that:

  • Lower levels of vitamin D in the blood correlate with a higher risk of cognitive decline and dementia,2,25-29 and

  • Higher levels of vitamin D are linked to better cognitive function and lower rates of cognitive decline and dementia.29-31

Even the size of the brain is affected by vitamin D. In older adults, brain volume tends to diminish, but vitamin D stops this loss. Those with the highest levels of vitamin D have greater brain volume than those with lower levels.30

Aging

Woman holding kale

Researchers studying the aging process have for years been interested in telomere length.

Telomeres cap our chromosomes and maintain the integrity of our genes. As we age, the length of our telomeres decreases and cellular senescence accelerates.32,33

Human studies have found that a higher level of vitamin D correlates with l onger telomeres.34-37 This means that on a genetic level, vitamin D helps protect our chromosomes and DNA against the ravages of time.

Other studies confirm that vitamin D can extend lifespan and shield against premature aging.38-40 Preclinical studies have demonstrated that higher intake of vitamin D can promote longevity, with one study showing that it increased lifespan by 33% in roundworms.7,41

Researchers have also found that people with the longest healthspan, such as those who live healthily into their 100s, have the highest blood levels of vitamin D. People who suffered from chronic disease at a younger age, on the other hand, tended to have dramatically lower levels of vitamin D in their blood.42

Cardiovascular Health

Insufficient vitamin D has been linked to increased rates of atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque in the arteries that leads to cardiovascular disease.8,43-45

Low vitamin D in the body is also associated with a higher risk for heart attack and overall death due to cardiac causes.10,46-49 One recent study found that in elderly people, a vitamin D deficiency was associated with 12.2 times greater odds for heart failure.50

Low vitamin D levels are also associated with high blood pressure and high blood glucose, conditions that further increase the risk of heart disease.51-53

But research has gone beyond these observational findings and shown that increasing vitamin D intake can help reverse the progression of cardiovascular disease.

Arterial stiffness is an emerging marker of blood vessel aging and dysfunction.54,55 It has been linked to cardiovascular disease, and cognitive decline.56,57

Research has shown that taking vitamin D can reduce arterial stiffness, lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. One study that used a modest dose of 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily led to a drop in arterial stiffness of 18%.58

Metabolic Disorders

Insulin resistance is a condition in which cells don’t respond to insulin’s signal to use glucose for energy. This often results eventually in high blood sugar, type II diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Over time, these disorders can cause accelerated aging, loss of vision, cardiovascular disease, stroke, nerve damage, and kidney failure.

Some of the most compelling data on vitamin D use in supporting metabolic health come from studies in people at high risk for type II diabetes, or prediabetics.59 Such people have impaired fasting glucose (fasting sugar levels between 100 mg/dL and 125 mg/dL), or impaired glucose tolerance (an abnormal rise in blood sugar following a metered dose of oral glucose).

In these populations, supplementation with vitamin D daily slowed the rise in fasting blood sugar over time, improved pancreatic insulin secretion, and boosted insulin sensitivity.60,61

Bone Health

The importance of vitamin D to bone health has been recognized for decades.62-64 Strong bones require calcium, and vitamin D helps maintain adequate calcium levels in the body.

Without enough calcium and vitamin D, bones are broken down more rapidly than new bone can be built up. This is one of the main causes of osteoporosis, the thinning and weakening of bones that increases the risk for fractures, which can be lethal in the elderly.62,65

Summary

plants growing in a beaker

Vitamin D was once thought to be important only for bone health. Scientists now know that it influences health throughout the body, from the brain to the heart.

Disorders ranging from cardiovascular disease to Alzheimer’s have been linked to lower levels of vitamin D. Higher vitamin D levels are associated with less risk of those and other diseases.

But it’s difficult to get enough from sunlight (without increasing the risk of skin cancer) or from diet. Studies have found that taking higher doses of vitamin D can help raise blood levels and improve overall health.

Life Extension® recommends that readers consider doses in the range of 5,000 IU to 8,000 IU daily. Regular blood testing is important to achieve maximum benefits.

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.

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