This crucial vitamin could determine your Alzheimer's risk

We know we need to maintain a healthy weight, eat well and exercise our brains to prevent the onset of dementia diseases like Alzheimer’s, but what role do vitamins play?

That’s what a team of researchers from California set out to discover, focusing on one vitamin that has already been linked to brain benefits and bone health.

Published in JAMA Neurology, the study used participants already involved in a long-term study of Alzheimer’s disease, measuring their vitamin D levels and looking at how they related to dementia risk.

They discovered that people with lower levels of “the sun vitamin” in their blood fared worse than those with higher levels over five years, suffering a faster rate of cognitive decline.

People with less vitamin D in their bodies scored lower on memory and executive function tests. This pattern remained even after researchers accounted for factors such as education, BMI, age and circulatory issues, all of which can affect dementia, plus the presence of known Alzheimer’s-related genes.

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The major sources of vitamin D are through foods, sunlight and supplements.

Interestingly, the authors of the study were not convinced that supplements were the solution.

“I don’t know if replacement therapy would affect these cognitive trajectories,” said a senior author of the study. “That needs to be researched and we plan on doing that.”

In the meantime, it seems a wise precaution to ensure you have adequate levels of vitamin D, which you can check with you doctor. Food sources include fatty fish such as mackerel, tuna and salmon; eggs; dairy such as cheese and fortified milks; and mushrooms.

In Australia, we obviously have the need to balance the risk of skin cancer with our bodies’ need for sunlight. Cancer Council Australia says the amount of sunlight you need to make vitamin D depends on a range of factors such as the UV level of the day, your skin type, and your lifestyle. In summer, most people only need a few minutes’ exposure to the sun, although

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“Prolonged sun exposure does not cause your vitamin D levels to increase further, but does increase your risk of skin cancer. Short incidental exposure to the sun, such as walking from the office to get lunch, is the best way to produce vitamin D,” advises the Cancer Council.

“Daily exercise will also assist your body with the production of vitamin D.”

Have you experienced a vitamin D deficiency? How did you overcome it?