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Low vitamin D levels can lead to faster declines in brain function, new research shows.
The effects are particularly pronounced in terms of memory loss and other issues associated with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
The brain functions of people with low vitamin D levels declined three times faster than those of people with adequate vitamin D levels, according to researchers from the University of California-Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Center and Rutgers University.
Joshua Miller, currently a professor in and chairman of Rutgers’ Department of Nutritional Sciences, states in a news release:
“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.”
What scientists call “executive function” refers to the mental skills that enable a person to accomplish tasks. Such skills include managing time, paying attention and remembering details, for example. “Episodic memory” refers to a person’s memory of specific events.
The study also states that the declines in executive function and episodic memory associated with low vitamin D levels “may correspond to elevated risk for Alzheimer’s disease (and) dementia.”
The research involved a study of 382 older adults who were followed for about five years. Their average age was about 76 and they were primarily white, African-American or Hispanic.
The study was published in the journal JAMA Neurology this week.
The research notes that there are two major sources of vitamin D.
The first is sun exposure. But some minorities are at greater risk of low vitamin D because the higher concentration of melanin that makes their skin darker inhibits the body’s synthesis of vitamin D.
The second major source is diet, especially dairy intake, which is also lower among minorities.
One limitation of the study, however, is that the researchers did not directly measure sun exposure, dairy intake or exercise, all of which can influence vitamin D levels.
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