We spend our whole lives building memories. From big milestones, like weddings and grandchildren, to the smaller things like hearing the perfect song on the radio during a long drive, we all have our favourite moments in time that we hold near and dear. Unfortunately, as we age, there is a chance that these memories will fade because of conditions that lead to a deterioration in our cognitive function, such as dementia.
Dementia is a progressive condition that changes the ability to think, remember, and communicate. This degenerative disease robs us of our loved ones before their time and leaves families scrambling to take on the role of caregiver. If you’re familiar with dementia, you’ve probably also heard that there is no cure. Unfortunately, this is still true. However, there is some good news emerging around dementia, with evidence pointing to a simple way to help reduce the risk of this dreaded condition.
In a world-first study, researchers found a direct link between dementia and lack of vitamin D. The ground-breaking science from the University of South Australia shows a strong causal relationship between low vitamin D blood levels and impaired brain health. Based on data from almost 295,000 participants in the UK, the study revealed that insufficient vitamin D is associated with lower brain volume and an increased risk of dementia and stroke. Researchers estimate that in some populations, as much as 17 % of dementia cases might be prevented by increasing vitamin D to normal levels. While previous research showed a link between low vitamin D levels and cognitive decline, this is the first large-scale investigation to provide concrete evidence that vitamin D is essential for long-term brain health.
Are You at Risk?
What does this mean for you? It means it may be time to get your vitamin D levels checked by your naturopathic doctor or health care practitioner if you fall under the following list of people who are at a higher risk for vitamin D deficiency:
- Postmenopausal people
- Pregnant and breastfeeding people
- Seniors, particularly those who are homebound or in nursing homes 
- People with darker skin tones
- People with mobility issues
- People living north of the 37th parallel, especially in winter  (According to one report from 2010, 70–97% of Canadians have suboptimal levels of vitamin D, and many could have “profoundly deficient levels.” )
With most Canadians being at risk for low levels of vitamin D, why is this study considered positive? Because the good news is, low levels of vitamin D and vitamin D deficiency can be easily remedied.
In this study, participants with the highest risk of dementia had concentrations of 25(OH)D below 50 nmol/L. The study authors suggest that people whose vitaminD levels fall below this critical number could benefit from vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D is difficult to come by in food. Fatty, cold-water fish and fortified dairy products contain vitamin D, but experts conclude that meeting vitamin D needs through diet is rarely possible. [6,5] Getting more of the “sunshine vitamin” from sun exposure can also be a challenge for people with limited mobility or who live in areas where the sun just isn’t strong enough most of the year. Vitamin D supplements are a simple, inexpensive way to get vitamin D levels up to sufficient levels.
The recommended daily intake of vitamin D for adults is 600 IU per day and 800 IU daily for people over 70.  Get your vitamin D levels checked to see if this amount helps you reach the 50 nmol/L minimum target. Consider taking a supplement if you are at risk of being low in vitamin D.