The research team, lead by Dr. David Llewellyn at the University of Exeter Medical School, anticipated a link between vitamin D deficiency and cognitive problems (previous research has shown a general correlation). But they were surprised by how high the risk was.
“The association was twice as strong as we anticipated,” Llewellyn says.
Adults moderately deficient in vitamin D had a 53 percent increased risk of developing dementia of any kind. Those who were severely deficient had 125 percent increased risk.
The large-scale study looked at 1,658 adults older than 65 over the course of six years.
Clinicians have stopped short of saying that supplementing with vitamin D will reduce the risk of dementia — more studies need to be done, they add — but with one billion people worldwide estimated to be low in vitamin D and approximately 44 million suffering from dementia, this is a significant, and possibly encouraging, finding.
3 Ways To Get Your D
Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to a wide variety of health problems, from cancer to decreased immune function to depression. To maintain optimal vitamin D levels:
1. Let the sun shine in. When exposed to sunlight, our skin converts the rays into vitamin D. Older adults’ skin may be less efficient at this, however, making it more important to get vitamin D levels tested and perhaps take a supplement.
2. Find other healthy sources. Vitamin D is found in certain oily fish, mushrooms, and supplements. If you take vitamin D in supplement form, keep in mind that it is better absorbed by the body when eaten with a meal containing healthy fat.
3. Get tested. You can ask your doctor for a vitamin D test or order one through a direct-to-consumer service such as Direct Labs. Testing may be especially important for people living in northern climates, where exposure to bright summer sunlight (the kind that triggers vitamin D production in the body) is limited.