The association between good nutrition and brain health has been long known among Alzheimer’s researchers. Making brain-healthy life choices, such as exercising regularly, doing activities that activate the gray matter and eating a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, proteins, dairy and whole grains can enhance cognitive function and even reduce the risk of dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Now, a new study highlights the importance of nutrition, suggesting that people may reduce their chances of developing Alzheimer’s by maintaining healthy levels of vitamin D.
About the study
The August 2014 study published in the journal Neurology aimed to determine if low levels of vitamin D were linked to Alzheimer’s and all-cause dementia (forms caused by conditions other than Alzheimer’s). The massive study looked at 1,658 seniors age 65 and older who were free of dementia and had never suffered stroke or cardiovascular disease. The scientists evaluated the concentrations of vitamin D in the bloodstream, taking into account participants’ dietary intake of the vitamin, sun exposure and use of supplements. After six years, 102 of the participants had developed Alzheimer’s disease while another 171 had another form of dementia.
The study revealed that people with moderately low levels of vitamin D were at a 53 percent higher risk of developing all-cause dementia and a 70 percent higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s compared to those who had normal levels. People who had severe deficiencies had an even greater increased likelihood: They were 125 percent more susceptible to all-cause dementia and 120 percent more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. The results went unchanged even after the scientists adjusted them for factors such as alcohol use, smoking and education levels.
As study author Dr. David J. Llewellyn of the University of Exeter Medical School in England told Forbes, the researchers were taken aback by the findings.
“We expected to find an association between low vitamin D levels and the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, but the results were surprising – we actually found that the association was twice as strong as we anticipated,” Llewellyn said.
The findings have led the scientists to declare that vitamin D deficiency has the potential to substantially boost the risk of dementia among seniors. But it also prompted them to call for further studies into the topic to determine if supplements and foods high in vitamin D have the capacity to delay or prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.