Reduced Vitamin D Levels Linked To Cognitive Decline

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July 13, 2010

Reduced vitamin D levels linked to cognitive decline

Reduced vitamin D levels linked to cognitive decline

A study conducted by an international team of researchers, published in the July 12, 2010 issue of the American Medical Association journal Archives of Internal Medicine, found a greater risk of cognitive decline in older individuals with vitamin D insufficiency compared to those with sufficient levels.

Researchers from the University of Exeter, the UK Medical Research Council Biostatistics Unit, the University of Michigan, Perugia University Hospital and Medical School in Italy, and the US National Institute on Aging analyzed data from more than 850 men and women who participated in the InCHIANTI study from 1998 to 2006. Cognitive function assessments, including measures of cognitive performance, mental flexibility and mental speed, were conducted at the beginning of the study, and at three and six years.

The team found that subjects who were severely deficient in vitamin D upon enrollment were 60 percent more likely to experience significant cognitive decline as well as 31 percent likelier to develop reductions in mental flexibility compared to those with sufficient levels. "This is the first study to identify a clear link between low vitamin D levels and cognitive decline,” announced lead researcher Dr David J. Llewellyn of Peninsula Medical School, University of Exeter. “Previous research has been cross-sectional but we have now been able to demonstrate a connection between having low levels of vitamin D and going on to develop cognitive problems. It is estimated that 1 billion people worldwide have insufficient levels of vitamin D, so this is cause for real concern. Few foods contain vitamin D, synthesis from sunlight is not possible for much of the year at northern latitudes, and skin becomes less efficient at producing vitamin D with age.”

"Cognitive decline and dementia are also very common in older adults, though the underlying causes are still largely unknown and current options for prevention and treatment are limited,” he noted. “Vitamin D deficiency is therefore a highly promising therapeutic target for the prevention of dementia, particularly as supplements are inexpensive and safe and have already been shown to reduce the risk of falls, fractures and death. Given the coming dementia epidemic funding should now be made available to extend our research and conduct intervention trials as a matter of urgency."

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Health Concern Life Extension Highlight

Mild cognitive impairment

A typical American diet does not provide enough essential vitamins. Worse yet, older people are at greater risk for vitamin deficiency because they tend to eat less, although their requirements for certain vitamins, such as B6, actually rise with age. Older people may also have problems with efficient absorption of nutrients from food. Even healthy older people often exhibit deficiencies in vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folate.

Vitamins are involved in biochemical processes throughout the body and appear to be involved in protecting and enhancing cognitive function. In particular, the B vitamins play an integral role in the functioning of the nervous system and help the brain synthesize chemicals that affect mood. A balanced complex of the B vitamins is essential for energy and for balancing hormone levels. An article in the Journal of Psychopharmacology described a study of 76 older men who were given vitamin B6 or placebo and then tested on memory function. The authors concluded that vitamin B6 improved storage and information retrieval (Deijen JB et al 1992). Another study reviewed vitamin B12 deficiency in relation to memory impairment and neuropathy in older people and concluded that both memory impairment and neuropathy can be successfully managed with vitamin B12 injections or supplementation (Carmel R 1996). One study determined that low levels of folate (a B vitamin) are associated with cognitive deficits and that patients treated with folic acid for 60 days showed a significant improvement in both memory and attention efficiency (Fioravanti MFE 1997).

Taking steps to improve one’s overall health is highly recommended to help prevent or minimize age-associated mental impairment. For example, exercising regularly, not smoking, and monitoring blood cholesterol levels can reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease and keep arteries open, supplying the brain with essential oxygen and nutrients.

Since most people tend to eat less as they age, the consumption of low-fat, nutrient-rich food is recommended to help prevent nutrient deficiencies. Eating large quantities of foods rich in antioxidants, such as blueberries, may provide protection from age-related mental decline.

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