For aging women, the looming threat of developing Alzheimer’s disease—and the subsequent memory loss—is a constant concern. However, as two reports have proven, the key to warding off Alzheimer’s is simple: go outside.
Research shows that getting more vitamin D can help women maintain a strong, fully functioning mind, In other words, the right amount of the sunshine vitamin can lead to a lower risk of Alzheimer’s. Similarly, the studies found that women with low levels of vitamin D in their system had a higher chance of impaired and declining cognitive functions, caused by illnesses like Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. These results add to a recent increase in findings that support vitamin D’s positive effects on aging adults’ overall health.
The body is capable of creating vitamin D through direct exposure to sunlight. That means shade and heavy clouds will decrease the amount of vitamin D produced—skin exposed to sunlight through a window will not create any at all. People with darker skin tones also naturally produce less vitamin D than fair-skinned individuals.
One report studied over 6,200 older women who had their vitamin D levels measured as part of a separate study on bone health. The results showed that very low levels of vitamin D (less than 10 nanograms per milliliter of blood) were associated with a higher risk of cognitive impairment, such as Alzheimer’s. Slightly higher (20 nanograms per milliliter) levels of vitamin D were connected to escalated cognitive decline.
The second report looked at 498 women who took part in a study on osteoporosis, with researchers dividing them into three groups: those with Alzheimer’s, those with a non-Alzheimer’s form of dementia, and those with no dementia at all. According to the researchers, the group of women with Alzheimer’s had lower reported intakes of vitamin D than the other two groups.
From these results, the researchers came to the conclusion that there is a connection between vitamin D intake and dementia. With regards to Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, the researchers believe that the link to vitamin D is especially significant.
The best way to maintain appropriate levels of vitamin D in the body is to receive 15 minutes of unprotected exposure to the sun every day. Appropriate sun care is still important—if you’re going to be outside for longer than 15 minutes, make sure to use a sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30 to prevent sun damaged skin.
If being outside isn’t possible, there are other ways to boost vitamin D production. Aside from direct sunlight, vitamin D can also be obtained via supplements, and from food such as milk and fatty fish like mackerel, tuna, and salmon.
Talk to a doctor or pharmacist in regards to both Alzheimer’s and your vitamin D intake before taking any supplements or making any major changes to your diet.
Annweiler, C., et al., “Higher vitamin D dietary intake is associated with lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease: a 7-year follow-up,” The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences 2012; 67: 1205-11.
“Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin D,” Office of Dietary Supplements web site; https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/, last accessed June 5, 2013.