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You risk cognitive impairment if you are deficient in this vitamin

Tracy Woolrich's picture
Sunshine Vitamin D deficiency

Vitamin D deficiency has long been associated with osteoporosis. Recent research now shows that those with Vitamin D deficiency may have a much higher incidence of cognitive impairment than those with normal Vitamin D levels.

I apparently am one of the unlucky ones that do not convert Vitamin D from food and sunlight easily. Less that 10ng/mL is considered severe and could be associated with rickets. 10-25 is considered moderate deficiency and is associated with osteoporosis and hyperparathyroidism. If I do not supplement it is not unheard of for me to have a level hovering in the teens. That is not good! That is because Vitamin D is not just a vitamin. It is in reality a steroidal hormone that regulated many systems in your body. Deficiency has been linked to diabetes, migraines, heart disease, hypertension, seizures and many other disorders.

I live in the land of sun here in Florida. It should be easy for me to get what I need for my daily requirements. However I do have to admit I probably do not get the 10-15 minutes of day of sun exposure I need as I work inside most of the day. In addition I have elevated cortisol levels due to stress which also depletes Vitamin D stores.

A new study out of the University of Kentucky indicates that Vitamin D deficiency may cause damage to the brain. The results were published in the Free Radical Biology and Medicine. It showed that when middle aged rats were given a low vitamin D diet for several months they developed damage to their brains and performed poorly in cognitive testing. Cognitive functioning is important for learning tasks and memory. The researchers felt that certain brain proteins were higher that contributed to stress in the brain causing the cognitive impairment. The reason why the research was done is because of the increase that has been shown in vitamin D deficiency within the aging baby boomers in the U.S.

Prof. Allan Butterfield, lead author of the research indicates the following. "Given that vitamin D deficiency is especially widespread among the elderly, we investigated how, during aging from middle-age to old-age, low vitamin D affected the oxidative status of the brain. Adequate vitamin D serum levels are necessary to prevent free radical damage in brain and subsequent deleterious consequences."

Vitamin D comes in two forms. They are D2 and D3, Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) comes from fortified foods (like milk), plants and oral supplements. Vitamin D3 ( cholecalciferol) comes from fortified foods, animal based foods (such as fish and eggs). It is also the type of Vitamin D that is converted by the body by sunlight exposure.

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Since Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin (along with A, E and K), it means that it is stored in your fat cells and can be used by your body as needed.

Foods that contain vitamin D

  • Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel. These are the same fish that provide Omega 3 EFA.
  • Beef liver, egg yolks and cheese, provide very small amounts.
  • Most U.S. milk is fortified with 400 IU of vitamin D per quart.
  • Fortified cereal, orange juice, some yogurts and soy products.

Vitamin D supplement is best absorbed when taken with food containing fat. Also it is better absorbed when taken with your largest meal of the day.

A study recently published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research examined patients at the Cleveland Clinic with Vitamin D deficiency. During the course of 2 months, the participants were told to take their Vitamin D supplement with their largest meal of the day. Levels were then drawn and showed an elevation of Vitamin D by an average of 56 percent.

“This is an important finding for patients being treated for vitamin D deficiency,” study senior author Dr. Angelo Licata said in a news release from the Cleveland Clinic. “By doing something as simple as changing when you take your vitamin D supplement, you can improve the level in your blood by over 50 percent.”

Guidelines for much vitamin D requirements have been set by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in 2010. If there was limited sun exposure they recommended the following.

  • 600 IU/day for ages 1 to 70
  • 800 IU/day for over 70 years of age
  • 600 IU/day for pregnant and lactating women

Take home message
Like any dietary supplements, vitamin D may interact with medicines or other supplements you might be taking. Steroids impair how the body converts Vitamin D in much the same way as the stress hormone Cortisol does. This will cause you to require additional Vitamin D to maintain healthy levels. Fat reducing drugs such as Xenical, Alli, Questran and others reduce the absorption of Vitamin D due to the reduction of the required fat. Tell your health care providers about any dietary supplements and medicines you take.

University of Kentucky

Mayo Clinic
Cleveland Clinic