Vitamin D is often linked to bone health but researchers with the Women’s Healthy Ageing Project in Melbourne think it’s also vital for brain health.
In 2002 they measured vitamin D levels and carried out brain function tests on 250 women aged 55-67 years. Ten years later they repeated the process, concluding that there’s a connection between vitamin D and the brain’s executive function.
Executive function refers to a group of skills that includes our capacity for planning, flexible thinking, time management and self-control, i.e. the kinds of skills we need for daily life.
At a time when no drug shows any sign of curbing dementia, this raises the question of whether vitamin D might help protect against cognitive decline.
Scientists at the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) believe it does. Their work has shown that when mice are deficient in vitamin D they lose their ability to remember and learn.
Other QBI research shows that older people with cognitive impairment and low vitamin D have a smaller, less functional hippocampus — a part of the brain involved in learning, memory and spatial navigation.
At the same time, European studies are connecting low vitamin D with brain-related issues such as depression and memory function.
While low levels have been linked to a range of health problems, there’s little evidence for taking more than enough to correct deficiencies.
That might change but for now the message is to make sure we have sufficient, and to think of vitamin D as preventative.
QBI researcher Thomas Byrne says: “I think of it like wearing a seatbelt: if you’re in a car and you crash without your seatbelt on, and then you put your seatbelt on afterwards, it doesn’t really help. You need the seatbelt on before you have the crash to prevent damage. We think the same goes for vitamin D.”
So it can’t turn around osteoporosis or dementia once they’re established.
But given research underlines the need to avoid being deficient — and it’s estimated that about 30 percent of us are — when your GP organises your annual blood tests, make sure vitamin D is included.
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