Consistent research has shown that vitamin D insufficiencies in the elderly are significantly correlated with increased cognitive decline and impairment, especially in areas of memory loss linked with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Researchers with the UC Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Center and Rutgers University claim that the effect of vitamin D insufficiency among the elderly is ‘substantial’ – people with low levels of the micronutrient experience cognitive decline three times faster than those with adequate levels.

Importance Of These Findings — Vitamin D After 40

The results definitely amplified the significance of identifying vitamin D insufficiencies in population after 40 age, especially high-risk groups – African-Americans and Hispanics – who don’t get to absorb sufficient amounts from the sun, which is undoubtedly the best source of vitamin D. Among other dark-skinned groups, lower levels of vitamin D must be identified as a risk factor for dementia.

Irrespective of race and ethnicity, baseline cognitive abilities and various other risk factors, inadequate levels of vitamin D were associated with significantly increased declines in episodic memory and executive function performance.

Joshua Miller, who was a Professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine when the research was performed, explained that this study, along with many previous ones, amounted sufficient evidence to suggest that individuals aged 60 and above must consider taking vitamin D supplements.

“Even if doing so does not prove to be effective, there’s still a very low health risk”, he explained.

Present Study: Establishing Effects Of Vitamin D After 40

The study was a wide-scale, longitudinal design, comprising of almost 400 men and women from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. The participants belonged to the Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Sacramento, Calif. Their mean age was 76; 50 percent were Caucasian and the remaining were African-American or Hispanic. The participants were classified into three categories: cognitively normal, with mild cognitive impairment, and those with dementia.

The serum vitamin D levels were measured at the start of the study, revealing that all participants had vitamin D deficiency (26 percent) and insufficiency (35 percent). Among the Caucasians, 54 percent had low levels of vitamin D; 70 percent of the African-Americans and Hispanics had vitamin D insufficiencies.

After following the participants for five years, individuals with vitamin D deficiencies experienced cognitive decline two to three times faster than normal individuals. In more statistical terms, it took only two years for vitamin D deficient participants to experience as much cognitive decline as their normal peers did in the five year follow-up.

Charles DeCarli, Director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Center, stated that they did expect to see cognitive impairment in people with low levels of vitamin D.

“What was unexpected was how profoundly and rapidly the latter impacts cognition”

Factors To Watch Out For

Exposure to sunlight is one of the major mechanisms of vitamin D production in the body. Certain racial and ethnic minorities have a higher concentration of melanin, the pigment that accounts for our skin color and protects against skin cancer. This significantly inhibits the synthesis of vitamin D, hence putting them at a greater risk of vitamin D deficiencies.

Another aspect is diet. Dairy products are great sources of dietary vitamin D. Minorities often have a limited intake of diary – only 6.5 percent African-Americans and 11 percent Mexican-Americans around the world consume the recommended three daily servings of dairy.

“I don’t know if replacement therapy would influence these cognitive trajectories. That aspect needs to be researched and we have plans to do so”, declared DeCarli. “This sort of vitamin deficiency can be easily treated. We need to start talking about it, especially for people of color, for whom vitamin D deficiency seems to be an even greater risk”. The research was published in JAMA Neurology, a JAMA Network journal.