Recent studies find connections between vitamin D levels and cognitive performance
Several new studies have demonstrated links between vitamin D levels in the blood and brain health outcomes like memory, cognition, dementia risk, and stroke. These new findings add to a growing body of research suggesting that maintaining adequate vitamin D levels may be important for optimal brain functioning as we age.
A study out of Tufts University published this week found that older adults with higher vitamin D levels in their brains performed better on tests of cognitive function. The researchers measured vitamin D levels in brain tissue samples from 290 deceased older adults who had undergone cognitive testing while alive. They found that participants with higher brain vitamin D had higher scores on memory and cognition assessments before death.
“These results are exciting because they provide new evidence that vitamin D may play an important role in supporting cognitive function as we age,” said lead study author Kyla Shea.
Similarly, a new study published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia found that older adults who took vitamin D supplements over 6-12 months showed improved performance on memory tests compared to those taking a placebo. Participants taking vitamin D supplements were able to recall over 2 more words on average on a memory recall test.
“Even small improvements in cognitive function over time can make a huge difference in quality of life,” said the study’s senior author, Luke Esposito.
Vitamin D deficiency associated with increased dementia and stroke risk
While the new research shows promising connections between higher vitamin D levels and better cognition, other recent studies have also demonstrated associations between vitamin D deficiency and poorer long-term brain outcomes.
A 2023 published in Neurology found that older adults with a vitamin D deficiency were over twice as likely to develop dementia and stroke over a 6-year follow-up period compared to those with adequate vitamin D levels. These findings remained significant even after accounting for other factors like socioeconomics, exercise, and overall health status.
“Ensuring older individuals have adequate vitamin D levels may be important for preventing neurological diseases like dementia and stroke as we age,” said lead researcher Dr. Avni Bavishi.
| Odds Ratio for Neurological Outcomes Based on Vitamin D Levels |
| Deficient | Adequate |
| Dementia | 2.36 | 1.00 |
| Stroke | 2.25 | 1.00 |
Similarly, another recent study published in JAMA Network Open did not find any overall association between long-term vitamin D levels and reduced Alzheimer’s disease risk. However, the researchers did note that bringing low levels up to normal could still potentially have neurological benefits.
Healthy diet and lifestyle also play a role
While much attention has been paid recently to vitamin D levels specifically, experts continue to emphasize that overall healthy nutrition and lifestyle habits remain important for long-term brain health. A new study in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience suggested vitamin D levels along with diets high in nutrients like vitamin E, folate, and omega-3 fatty acids were associated with better cognition in older adults.
“A balanced, nutritious diet, regular exercise, mental stimulation, stress management, and strong social connections are vitally important for healthy brain aging over the long run,” said neuropsychologist Dr. Rebecca Reed. “Monitoring vitamin D is just one piece of the puzzle.”
Recommendations for vitamin D remain similar in light of new research
For now, overall recommendations regarding optimal vitamin D levels and supplementation remain similar despite the influx of new research. Most experts continue to recommend aiming for blood vitamin D levels of 30-50 ng/mL, which is consider sufficient. This typically requires getting 600-800 IU of vitamin D per day from food and supplements combined. However, the specifics can vary substantially based on age, time of year, geographical latitude, skin pigmentation, and other factors.
“We’re still working out the exact mechanisms and relationships involved, but maintaining healthy vitamin D levels through food sources like fatty fish, vitamin D-fortified dairy and grains, and limited unprotected sun exposure appears beneficial for long-term neurological health,” said Dr. Shea.
Some scientists have speculated we may see increased vitamin D intake recommendations as more evidence of neuoroprotective effects accummulates, but more research is still needed first. In the meantime, checking blood levels from time to time and discussing personalized dosage with your doctor based on your results remains good practice.
The connections between vitamin D status and neurological health outcomes like memory, cognition, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and stroke risk are complex. While recent studies have added to growing evidence that optimal vitamin D levels may be one important and modifiable factor in maintaining brain health as we age, many questions still remain regarding the specifics of these relationships.
Moving forward, longitudinal randomized controlled trials testing the causal effects of long-term vitamin D supplementation on cognition will help clarify the strength and clinical relevance of these associations. Examining how vitamin D links mechanistically to changes underlying dementia pathology through autopsy studies can also shed more light. Integrating updated information about optimal vitamin D levels into public health policy around dementia prevention is another consideration requiring additional investigation in the coming years.
In the meantime, pursuing a balanced healthy lifestyle featuring a Mediterranean style diet, regular exercise, mental and social activity, stress reduction, and adequate sleep and nutrition all remain foundations for maintaining and promoting cognitive abilities into older age. Monitoring and managing vitamin D intake through foods, controlled sun exposure, and supplements under the guidance of your physician may provide additional benefit. But more research is still required to make definitive vitamin D recommendations around neurological disease prevention and specify what qualifies as the “right” amount helpful for protecting brain health over the long term.
To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.