Is the “Sunshine Vitamin” Linked to a Greater Risk of Dementia?

It seems like every week I come across a different article reporting the role nutrition plays in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and vitamin D is one that is talked about very frequently. There’s a chance Vitamin D may protect the aging brain against dementia and Alzheimer's disease, and on the flip-side, people with the highest levels of vitamin D show a decrease in incidences of degenerative diseases.

Vitamin D is synthesized by the body when exposed to sunlight, and it stimulates more than 900 genes in human physiology—most of which reside in the brain. These genes relate to activities like reducing inflammation, strengthening nerve cells, and helping the brain rid itself of viruses.

The link between Vitamin D, the Nervous System, and the Brain

Vitamin D is critical for normal functioning of the nervous system because of the variety of roles it plays. For example, vitamin D is important in the synthesis of a number of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, serotonin, catecholamines and acetylcholine. It has also been proposed vitamin D protects against age-related inflammatory changes in a section of the brain called the hippocampus.

How Much Vitamin D?

It's not quite clear how much vitamin D is enough for good health (measured by blood levels). Most experts have concluded the minimum level is between 20 and 30 ng/mL. Checking your vitamin D is a routine blood test your health care provider can easily do.

Where does Vitamin D come from?

Very few foods in nature contain vitamin D. The flesh of fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel, and fish liver oils are among the best sources. Small amounts of vitamin D are found in beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks.

Older individuals are particularly at risk of vitamin D deficiency because they may eat a diet with less than adequate vitamin D, have a limited ability to metabolize the vitamin, and have limited exposure to sunlight. Talk to your health care provider if you're interested in having your vitamin D levels checked or taking a vitamin D supplement.

In Health and Happiness,

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods

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