Getting enough of this nutrient in your diet or via supplements, the study found, wards off cognitive decline—and stroke risks—as we age.
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Credit: Getty / Photo by Cathy Scola

It is widely known among health professionals and consumers alike that taking vitamin D supplements is beneficial to your body; the nutrient helps your muscles move, your immune system fight infections, and your nerves send signals to your brain. A first-of-its-kind study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition uncovered that it can also ward off one key cognitive condition often associated with aging: dementia. The new research found that low amounts of vitamin D was linked with low brain volumes, which could boost people's risks of dementia and stroke.

The study, backed by the National Health and Medical Research Council, analyzed data from 294,514 participants out of the UK Biobank. Through the research, scientists looked into the health outcomes of people with low vitamin D levels (25 nmol/L) and their chances of experiencing dementia and a stroke. They did this by using the Nonlinear Mendelian randomization (MR) method, which measures variations in genes to find out the effect of a modifiable exposure on disease. With this technique, they were able to test the underlying causality for neuroimaging results, dementia, and stroke.

Researchers found that there was a casual effect of dementia based on lack of vitamin D. "Our study is the first to examine the effect of very low levels of vitamin D on the risks of dementia and stroke, using robust genetic analyses among a large population," says Elina Hyppönen, a professor and the senior investigator and director of UniSA's Australian Centre for Precision Health. "In some contexts, where vitamin D deficiency is relatively common, our findings have important implications for dementia risks. Indeed, in this UK population we observed that up to 17 percent of dementia cases might have been avoided by boosting vitamin D levels to be within a normal range."

The team found that understanding the normal range (50 nmol/L) of vitamin D intake can help those worldwide. "Dementia is a progressive and debilitating disease that can devastate individuals and families alike," Hyppönen said. "If we're able to change this reality through ensuring that none of us is severely vitamin D deficient, it would also have further benefits and we could change the health and wellbeing for thousands."

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