Two different studies have highlighted natural weapons we may have at our disposal in our fight against developing Alzheimer’s disease. One is Vitamin D and the other is our diet.
We’ve long known that vitamin D, generally absorbed through sun exposure but often supplemented, is necessary for bone strength. During the last few years, evidence has been accumulating showing that a low level of vitamin D likely contributes to cardiovascular disease, some cancers, strokes, depression and some metabolic disorders.
Now, a review recently published in the journal Neurology, assessed 37 studies that evaluated vitamin D concentrations and cognitive function. While the studies included various age groups, most participants were men and women over 65. The authors conducted two meta-analyses: one to compare the mean vitamin D concentration between participants with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and controls, and one to compare mean mental status scores between participants with low vitamin D levels and those with higher levels.
Vitamin D concentrations in the body are affected by many factors including skin pigmentation, age, genetics, sun exposure and geographic location. Studies included in the review show that cognitive decline and aging may affect vitamin D levels through dietary and behavioral changes, as well.
Researchers do know that vitamin D influences many body functions, including some brain functions by regulating genes, directing nerve growth factor, controlling neurotransmitters, and clearing amyloid plaques, which are considered a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
What’s our take away from this review? While it does not provide new information regarding vitamin D and Alzheimer’s, it does provide a comprehensive collection of evidence that vitamin D is, at the very least, associated with a healthy brain. Considering that it has been shown to help clear amyloid plaques, it seems possible that following our doctor’s advice to take vitamin D supplements for other health risks may also help protect us from Alzheimer’s disease.
Once again, the Mediterranean diet proves its worth
In a recently published study, 2148 New Yorkers aged 65 or older without dementia at the beginning of the study reported their dietary practice. These participants were examined every year and a half for neurological disorders like Alzheimer's disease.
The study was led by Y. Gu of the Taub Institute for Research in Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging Brain at Columbia University in New York. According to an article published in the Archives of Neurology, Gu found that men and women who closely followed a dietary pattern that is similar to a Mediterranean diet were 38 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease during a 3.8 year follow-up.
The diet consumed by the participants who remained in the best health was a classic Mediterranean diet consisting of olive oil, nuts, fish, tomatoes, poultry, cruciferous vegetables, fruit, and dark and green leafy vegetables. In general, they consumed low amounts of high fat dairy products, red meat, organ meats and butter.
No guarantees but helpful advice
Neither of these reports offers us a guarantee that we will age with a healthy brain. However, the review of vitamin D studies and the new study about the Mediterranean diet that echoes many similar studies offer us hope that lifestyle changes may make a difference. There is little risk for most of us in following up on this research and trying to include an appropriate amount of vitamin D and a good, healthy diet as a daily part of our lives. There could possibly be much to gain.
Liu, D. (2012, October 29) Dietary pattern identified to prevent Alzheimer's disease. Food Consumer.org. Retrieved from http://www.foodconsumer.org/newsite/Nutrition/Diet/dietary_pattern_identified_to_prevent_alzheimer_s_1029120741.html
Gibson, J. (2012, October 29) D is for Dementia – Vitamin D and Brain Health. BrainBlogger.com. Retrieved from http://brainblogger.com/2012/10/29/d-is-for-dementia-vitamin-d-and-brain-health/