D is for dementia

There are currently 332,000 Australians living with dementia and this number is expected to increase as the population ages. These figures though hide the true statistics of the many people who are affected by a loved one becoming affected by dementia. If there is anything we can do to reduce the incidence of dementia then it is worth pursuing and a new study has suggested that vitamin D may be a critical part of the dementia picture.

The study involved almost 1,700 people aged 65 and over who did not have dementia at the start of the trial. The people were followed for an average of five and a half years and the researchers took blood samples to measure vitamin D levels because they already knew that Alzheimer’s Disease (the leading cause of dementia) is associated with low vitamin D levels. Compounding this is the fact that older adults, those most at risk of dementia, are often deficient in vitamin D.

The results showed even an even stronger link between vitamin D deficiency and dementia than the researchers expected. They found that people with low levels of vitamin D were 53 per cent more likely to develop dementia during the study and those who were severely deficient were 125 per cent more likely to develop dementia. As far as Alzheimer’s Disease specifically, low vitamin D increased risk by 70 per cent and severely low vitamin D increased risk by 120 per cent.

With such a strong link found the question then becomes where can you get your vitamin D from? Well, you can get it from food like fish, milk, eggs, and cheese or you can take supplements (if you choose supplements choose ones that use cholecalciferol otherwise known as “vitamin D3”). Otherwise you can of course get your vitamin by sun exposure but the amount of exposure you need is variable.

Large amounts of vitamin D3 are made in your skin when you expose your body to summer sun. This happens very quickly; around half the time it takes for your skin to turn pink and begin to burn. This could be just 15 minutes for a very fair skinned person, or a couple of hours or more for a dark skinned person.

The amount of vitamin D you produce also varies with the time of day. Your skin produces more vitamin D if you expose it during the middle of the day. If you live closer to the equator it is easier for you to produce vitamin D from sunlight all year round. The amount of skin you expose also has an impact as the more skin your expose, the more vitamin D your body will produce.

So while it is not easy to prescribe an exact amount of sun exposure required to produce enough vitamin D for every individual, it does seem that judiciously saluting the sun might be on way to reduce your dementia risk.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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