As we get older, it becomes increasingly important for us to take care of our brain health. The risk of contracting an age-related brain condition like Alzheimer’s dementia is scary, but luckily, science tell us that there are small, daily interventions that can help us keep our brains functioning properly. One such way is ensuring that we’re getting enough vitamin D.
When you think about vitamin D, bone health and even conditions like depression might come to mind. But as it turns out, this essential nutrient is really important for our brain, too — and that importance only grows larger as we get older.
Vitamin D and Brain Aging
To better understand the link between vitamin D and brain health, we spoke to Dr. Michael A. Smith, Director of Education at Life Extension. “Vitamin D helps preserve youthful cognitive function, supports bone and immune system health, helps maintain already-healthy blood pressure, encourages a healthy inflammatory response, and promotes endothelial function,” he says. “Researchers have discovered certain cells in the brain have receptors for vitamin D that keep the brain healthy and functioning. Human studies also show that higher vitamin D levels are associated with reduced disability and cognitive impairment following stroke.”
Other research backs this up. One review of studies found that vitamin D aids in the function of neurons (or nerve cells) in the brain and that vitamin D deficiency has been associated with an increased risk of schizophrenia and age-related conditions like dementia. Even further, Dr. Smith explains, “Healthy serum vitamin D levels have been shown to correspond with better scores on cognitive health tests and better maintenance of cognitive ability in aging individuals.” That means things like problem solving and short-term memory!
Whether or not you’re worried about dementia, Dr. Smith says that keeping your vitamin D levels up will help you keep your brain as sharp as it can be. “Mild cognitive impairment and dementia are common forms of age-related cognitive decline – they are multifactorial and vitamin D has an associative role. Both disorders and other aspects of healthy brain function have been consistently associated with levels of vitamin D in the blood. With higher levels of vitamin D, the more protection you’ll have. Whereas lower levels significantly increase the risk for future cognitive dysfunction.”
So how much exactly do you need? There is some debate about this, as different factors like your weight play into how much you should be getting. Dr. Smith recommends getting between 5,000 and 8,000 IU daily and also emphasized getting your blood levels tested: “Given the high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency and the strong association of low vitamin D levels with several health issues, annual testing and supplementation are highly recommended. Annual blood tests can enable one to know whether they are taking the correct dosage to ensure optimal blood levels of vitamin D.”
As for the best ways to raise your vitamin D levels, Dr. Smith thinks that getting it from your diet, good ol’ sunshine, and a quality vitamin D supplement can do the trick. “Your skin produces vitamin D when in direct sunlight, and a potent supplement is good to add to the daily routine [along with] regular testing.” But of course, don’t forget to apply sunscreen! For a vitamin D supplement we love, try this one from Life Extension ($25.40, Amazon), and as always, get your doctors OK before trying any new supplement.
Here’s to a younger, healthier brain!