June 5, 2009
Researchers have found that low serum levels of vitamin D are associated with an increased risk for host of health problems ranging from diabetes and osteoporosis to depression, dental cavities and periodontal disease. What’s more, in 2008, numerous studies concluded that people with higher serum levels of vitamin D had a greatly reduced risk of cardiovascular disease as well as a lowered chance of death due to cardiac causes. Curiously, all of these seemingly separate conditions are either known risk factors for dementia or tend to strike before dementia is diagnosed. Now scientist William B. Grant, PhD, of the Sunlight, Nutrition, and Health Research Center (SUNARC) has put these facts together and has come up with a startling new hypothesis about the cause of mind-robbing Alzheimer’s disease and other vascular dementias: vitamin D deficiency.
His article in the current issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease (May 2009) explains why further investigation is needed to identify any causative linkages between vitamin D and dementia, including the type known as Alzheimer’s disease. As an example of how risk factors for the development of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia could be directly related to vitamin D deficiencies, Dr. Grant cites several studies that have correlated tooth loss with the development of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s or vascular dementia. Why do people lose teeth? Primarily, he points out in his article, tooth loss is the result of dental caries and/or periodontal disease — and both those conditions are linked to low levels of vitamin D.
In addition, Dr. Grant’s article explains that ample biological evidence has accumulated showing how critical vitamin D is to healthy brain development and function. In fact, vitamin D in sufficient amounts seems to protect brain cells and reduce inflammation. A lack of vitamin D has been associated with increased inflammation and a pro-inflammatory state has been linked, in turn, with dementia.
Dr. Grant is calling for studies of levels of vitamin D in people before dementia is diagnosed and research to determine if vitamin D supplementation is warranted to potentially prevent dementia. In addition, because elderly people are frequently deficient in vitamin D, he suggests that those over 60 years old should consider having their serum vitamin D level tested and, if their vitamin D status is low, he recommends taking 1000 to 2000 IU a day of vitamin D3 supplements and/or increasing the time they spend in the sun year round.