12 January - 20 June 2016

Vitamin D and dementia

13 August 14

A lack of vitamin D in the diet could double the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer's disease, according to a collaborative study led by researchers at the University of Exeter. Their research considered 1658 dementia-free participants in the US population-based Cardiovascular Health Study, who were over the age of 65. Vitamin D in the participants' blood was measured and the individuals followed up on a regular basis for up to 6 years. At this point, 171 of those involved had developed dementia, of which 102 were suffering from Alzheimer's. Analysis indicated that those with low levels of vitamin D - defined as between 25 and 50 nmol/L blood concentration - had a 53% increased risk of developing dementia and, furthermore, that those who were severely deficient (less than 25nmol/L) had a massive increase in risk of up to 125% when compared to participants with normal levels. The results for Alzheimer's specifically were similar; there was a 69% risk increase for the moderately deficient group and 122% increase for the severely deficient. Generally, vitamin D levels of above 50 nmol/L circulating in the bloodstream were associated with good brain function.

The researchers warn that we still do not understand the link between vitamin D and dementia, and that these results certainly do not show that low vitamin D levels cause dementia. Study author Dr David Llewellyn stated that clinical trials were now needed to investigate whether dementia onset could be delayed or prevented with vitamin D administered through supplementation or diet (oily fish, for example). Nevertheless, he acknowledged, if treatment of this type should prove successful, the impact on public health could be immense, with positive implications for both personal quality of life and the financial burden of care. [The Independent, BBC, Eurekalert]

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