If older adults start taking vitamin D long before they have memories, then they could be less likely to develop dementia, according to a new study. Published in Alzheimer’s and Dementia, the journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, the study found that higher concentrations of vitamin D in the four brain areas of the individuals tested were associated with a 25 to 33 percent lower likelihood of of developing dementia or mild cognitive impairment. The study is significant because it indicates for the first time how vitamin D is involved in cellular signaling pathways that may be part of the neurodegenerative process.
Experts in India have said that although the study had a small sample size, these were significant findings and more research studies were needed. However, they have warned against excessive intake of vitamin D supplements without medical advice.
The study adds to accumulating evidence that nutritional strategies play a key role in delaying or preventing the onset of cognitive decline and dementia, either by directly affecting neuropathology or fostering resilience to pathology. One nutritional factor that has received considerable attention is vitamin D, an essential fat-soluble vitamin and pro-hormone acquired through diet and sun exposure, the study’s researchers say. Dr Rajas Deshpande, Director of Neurology at Pune’s Jupiter Hospital, said the findings were significant despite the small sample size as they indicate that there was less degeneration in the brain due to good vitamin D levels . “It’s heartening to see so many. Advances in the field of dementia and studies show many ways to stop it early, such as taking more steps, including certain new foods in your diet and now taking supplements of vitamin D. But it would be inadvisable to start taking high doses of vitamin D supplements on your own without consulting your doctor, as toxic levels can lead to heart arrhythmia,” he said. Also, while adequate levels of vitamin D can slow neurodegeneration, “there is a need to establish a causal relationship between vitamin D and dementia,” he added.
Dr Anil Venkitachalam, consultant neurologist at Kokilaben Hospital, Navi Mumbai, said vitamin D has been associated with many neurological disorders. “Studies have clearly shown the role of vitamin D in multiple sclerosis. There is also some evidence linking low levels of vitamin D to stroke. For neurodegenerative disorders such as dementia, the exact causality is not is clear. However, the fact is that vitamin D has a neuroprotective effect, and adequate levels can slow neurodegeneration and prevent neuronal damage,” he says.
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Dementia is a general term for a group of progressive and neurodegenerative brain disorders that occur in old age. Alzheimer’s disease is a specific cause of dementia. By 2050, the global prevalence of dementia is expected to exceed 150 million, a sixfold increase from 2019. Therefore, there is an urgent need for preventive strategies to reduce the burden of the disease Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and dementia as the population ages, he said. M Kyla Shea, the study’s principal investigator, of the Center for Human Nutrition Research on Aging, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts. According to 2020 estimates, 5.3 million Indians over the age of 60 had dementia; but this is likely to be a conservative estimate. However, what is alarming is that in the next 30 years this number is expected to triple. Also, India’s older population is growing rapidly, and nearly one-fifth of its total population would be over 60 years of age by 2050, according to reports.