Food for thought – the latest on maintaining your smarts

Food for thought has become a hotbed of research as our population ages. Statistics show that the proportion of  seniors are climbing and with these increasing  figures comes  a greater concern about  maintaining cognitive function.

If you are seeking solutions to  stave off  a decline in brain power for yourself or a loved one, be wary about the  elixirs, potions or supplements offering promise.  There is still much research that needs to be done before anyone can prescribe a magic bullet.  So don’t waste money on expensive brews or follow rigid dietary regimes that have no science behind them and instead  focus on healthy living while keeping an eye on the latest research.

Here’s a sampling linking low vitamin D levels to an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer disease.

The study, published in the journal, Neurology, followed more than 1600 elderly subjects who had no signs of  either dementia, cardiovascular disease and stroke at the outset of the investigation.  At the start of the study,   levels of vitamin D were among the blood tests recorded. Almost 6 years later, scientists found that those   with low levels of vitamin D were more than twice as likely  to develop Alzheimer’s disease.  Study subjects who had severe deficiencies of vitamin D were  122 %  more likely to be diagnosed with the disease.

This is not the first study to link low vitamin D with a loss of cognitive function. But it’s also important to keep in mind that the study does not show cause and effect. In other words, the research does not show that if you boost your vitamin D levels  you can prevent Alzheimer’s disease. There is clinical research underway currently where scientists will assess the impact of vitamin D supplements on maintaining your smarts.

But in the meantime, consider that many people as they age are deficient in this key nutrient. Firstly, there is a reduced ability to make vitamin D upon exposure to sunlight. Secondly, due to the message of safe sun practices, many people have also heeded the advice to use sunscreen. Since sunscreen blocks vitamin D production, without other sources of the vitamin, blood levels are sure to be low.

It’s not just diminishing brain function that’s linked to vitamin D shortfalls. This vitamin is connected a growing list of ills right through the life cycle: from auto-immune disorders, such as multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis,  infectious diseases and  allergies to hypertension, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and  some  cancers, such as breast, prostate and colon cancers.   

As for supplements, some health groups are recommending taking 1,000 IU while other experts recommend higher amounts. Keep in mind that  4,000 IU per day is the current Upper Tolerable Limit recommended by Health Canada.

Up next: MINDfull   – recipes for brain health, a book which provides a foundation for healthy eating for the brain.

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Do you take vitamin D supplements? How much do you take and why? Please share in the comment section below.

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Categories: Nutrition News, Research Roundup

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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