Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are estimated to grow exponentially over the next five decades. In a report issued recently, researchers from Alzheimer's Disease International
said that approximately 58 percent of all people with dementia live in developing countries and that by 2050, nearly half of the people with the disease will live in Asia. These numbers are likely to grow with aging populations and as more cases are identified.
Researchers might have a new area to look towards in the efforts to slow the progression of dementia. A study done at Rutgers University suggests a correlation between low levels of Vitamin D in younger years and the onset of dementia and Alzhiemer’s disease in later life.
Vitamin D has always been known for it’s benefits for bone health, but the recent research connecting it to some forms of dementia is giving researchers a new avenue of possible study, hopefully leading to better outcomes. While Vitamin D can be naturally absorbed from the sun or foods like fatty fish, salmon, legumes and nuts, there are still many people who don’t get enough. Professor Joshua Miller, who teaches nutritional sciences at the Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, conducted the research with colleagues Charles DeCarli, Danielle Harvey and others at the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at UC Davis between 2002 and 2010 while he was on the faculty there.
The study included 382 people
, with varying levels of cognitive ability ranging from normal cognition, mild loss and full-blown dementia. Vitamin D levels were drawn once a year for five years. The ages of the study participants started with younger subjects in their 60’s and included subjects all the way into their 90’s. Most of the study group were in their 70s when the study began.
Previous studies of Vitamin D and dementia have not been as racially diverse as this one and that was a significant factor in the research. In the white participants, 54% had low levels of Vitamin D in their blood, with the rates rising to 70% among African American and Hispanic participants. The racial breakdown was important in this research because while darker skinned individuals will always have lower levels of Vitamin D because the higher levels of melanin block the body’s absorption, this study found no difference in the rates of cognitive function based on just on race.
With more people engaged in work that keeps them indoors, and increased awareness of melanoma rates, getting Vitamin D from the sun isn't as common as it used to be. In a press release from Rutgers
, Professor Miller said, “Some people may have had melanoma or fear getting it. Or, they may live in climates where the sun isn’t powerful enough, or do work that keeps them out of the sun. That’s where supplements come in.”
Miller was quick to stress that this was a relatively small study and more research, including controlled double blind clinical trials, needs to be done, the data collected was a valuable start in the right direction
“This will give us the additional information that we need to help determine whether vitamin D supplements can be used to slow the rate of cognitive decline and prevent dementia in older adults,” Miller said.
The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. See the video below for more information on Professor Miller's research.