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Vitamin D Levels and Mental Decline In Older Adults

A new study conducted in China found an association between low vitamin D levels and future cognitive decline in older adults. The lower the vitamin D levels at the initial screening (the baseline), the more people with cognitive decline at a 2 year follow-up. There were were no gender differences. (Another study with similar results.) Vitamin D is produced naturally in the skin when exposed to sunlight, and also found in smaller amounts in food such as fish (e.g. salmon) and eggs. Vitamin D helps maintain healthy bones and muscles, but it also plays a key part in brain function and is viewed as neuroprotective. Low levels are associated with greater risk of cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases.

The 1,202 participants (60 years or older) in China had their baseline vitamin D levels measured at the start of the study, and their cognitive abilities assessed over two years. What I found interesting in this study was that the vitamin D levels in the people was in general pretty low - this was without any supplementation, thus from sunlight. The researchers specified vitamin D levels (25-Cholecalciferol) in nmol/l, but in the United States values are generally specified in ng/ml. In the study the median level of vitamin D levels in the lowest quartile converted to ng/ml was 10.0 ng/ml, and in the highest quartile the median level was 26.4 ng/ml. With those low numbers, all 4 groups in the United States would be advised to supplement daily with vitamin D (specifically vitamin D3). From Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences:

Vitamin D Levels and the Risk of Cognitive Decline in Chinese Elderly People: the Chinese Longitudinal Healthy Longevity Survey

Vitamin D has a neuroprotective function, potentially important for the prevention of cognitive decline. Prospective studies from Western countries support an association between lower vitamin D level and future cognitive decline in elderly people.

This community-based cohort study of elderly people in China follows 1,202 cognitively intact adults aged ≥60 years for a mean duration of 2 years. Plasma vitamin D level was measured at the baseline. Cognitive state of participants was assessed using the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE). Cognitive impairment was defined as an MMSE score <18. Cognitive decline was defined as ≥3 points decline from baseline....Participants with low vitamin D level had an increased risk of cognitive decline. This first follow-up study of elderly people, including the oldest-old, in Asia shows that low vitamin D levels were associated with increased risk of subsequent cognitive decline and impairment.

Vitamin D is a secosteroid hormone necessary for maintaining good musculoskeletal health; its deficiency is associated with increased risks of cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. Vitamin D is primarily synthesized in the skin upon exposure to sunlight; smaller amounts are obtained through dietary intake. More recently, enzymes responsible for the synthesis of its active form have been found to be distributed throughout the human brain.... This growing body of evidence suggests that vitamin D has a neuroprotective function that is potentially important for the prevention of cognitive decline. Although the importance of vitamin D cannot be disregarded, there is still no consensus on its optimal level. This is especially pertinent in the elderly people, the oldest-old in particular, as cutaneous synthesis of vitamin D decreases with age. Moreover, their impaired mobility and limited outdoor activities can further exacerbate vitamin D deficiency.

Cross-sectional studies have generally found a positive association between vitamin D status and cognitive performance in older adults. Recent prospective studies from United States and Europe support an association between diminished vitamin D status and future cognitive decline. Since cutaneous synthesis is the main source of vitamin D, there exists great variability in vitamin D levels across populations due to differences in latitude, seasons, and race/ethnicity, such as level of skin pigmentation.

Our findings were consistent with previous cohort studies showing that vitamin D status predicts cognitive decline....A notable observation in the present study is that the association of vitamin D status and cognitive decline were similar in both oldest-old and less elderly people. In this study, there was a clear association between lower 25(OH)D3 level and cognitive impairment in subjects aged ≥80....An additional difference from previous studies is that the current study indicates that the association between vitamin D and cognitive impairment is not gender specific.

The observation of temporal association between 25(OH)D3 levels and subsequent cognitive function supports the notion that vitamin D has a clinically important neuroprotective effect. A wide variety of mechanisms for this effect has been proposed and is supported by animal studies. Vitamin D has been found to modulate neuronal calcium homeostasis, cerebral process of detoxification, immunomodulation, and beta-amyloid clearance.....Further, it was unlikely that vitamin D supplementation would explain the association in this study, as 87% of the participants reported no use of vitamin supplements....In conclusion, our longitudinal study indicates that low 25(OH) D3 levels are associated with subsequent cognitive decline and cognitive impairment

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