Vitamin D Gives the Brain a Boost

Healthnotes Newswire (June 11, 2009)—Research has shown that healthy vitamin D levels may help protect against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, and multiple sclerosis, and now a new study suggests that vitamin D may be important in older men’s ability to think and remember things (cognitive function).

Optimum blood levels of vitamin D have not been determined, but researchers believe that many people are deficient. Current research suggests that having a vitamin D level above 50 nmol/L is important for health and disease prevention.

Low vitamin D affects mind’s abilities

This study looked at the association between cognitive function and vitamin D levels in 3,369 men, ages 40 to 79, who participated in the European Male Ageing Study. The men’s cognitive function was tested and their serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels were measured (25-hydroxyvitamin is considered the most reliable measure of vitamin D status). Cognitive function tests evaluated visuo-constructional ability, memory, recognition, and speed of processing information.

Results showed that lower levels of vitamin D (35 nmol/L and under) were associated with slower speed of processing information on one of the cognitive function tests, and this was particularly true among older participants.

David M. Lee and his colleagues from the University of Manchester, Manchester, UK, comment that definitive conclusions cannot be drawn from their study but state, “In light of our findings, and the fact that vitamin D inadequacy is common among adults, further prospective studies are warranted to determine whether vitamin D supplementation could aid in minimizing ageing-related declines in specific cognitive domains.”

Tips for keeping your mind sharp

Many factors may affect our mind’s ability to think, including age, alcohol consumption, disease, depression, medications, and other conditions. Here are some tips for keeping your mind healthy as you age:

Talk with a doctor if you are having trouble with memory, thinking, or concentrating. Certain medications may impair memory or concentration, and mood disorders such as depression or anxiety can also affect your ability to think clearly. It is very important to discuss these concerns with your doctor.

Play games. Research has shown that playing stimulating games may help slow age-related cognitive decline. Crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and Scrabble are all good examples of games that strengthen your thinking skills.

Exercise. Regular exercise has been associated with a healthier mind in some studies. Engage in some type of physical activity every day based on your abilities and doctor’s recommendations.

Eat a healthy diet. The mind and the body need a wide variety of vitamins and minerals including vitamin D to be healthy. Vitamin D is obtained through sun exposure and through food sources such as salmon, mackerel, and fortified cereals and milk. Before taking dietary supplements discuss the issue with your doctor to hear his or her recommendations for you based on your medical conditions.

Avoid excess alcohol. Alcohol slows the mind’s ability to process information and impairs judgment, the ability to concentrate, and memory. Drink only in moderation or as recommended by your doctor.

(J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 2009;0:1–8. doi:10.1136/jnnp.2008.165720)

Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, Web sites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.

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