The idea of a cognitive decline is not something most people enjoy thinking about, let alone looking into. However, researchers have uncovered a surprising link between Vitamin D deficiency and the rate of cognitive decline in the later stages of life.
The study, presented by ScienceDaily, from the joint team efforts of the UC Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Center and Rutgers University researchers has found a significant link between the levels of vitamin D intake and the rate of cognitive decline among selected populations. The research found that older individuals who have much lower levels of vitamin D intake were three times more likely to develop stronger symptoms of cognitive decline.
What is the reasoning behind this shocking acceleration of cognitive decline? According to the research team, melanin levels in the skin appear to have some correlation with the rate of decline.
This research has startling and interesting implications for the American-based researchers, particularly when it comes to the kind of findings inferred for Hispanic/Latin individuals and African-American individuals. As the researchers pointed out in their findings, people with darker skin tones receive less vitamin D from sunlight due to the stronger levels of melanin in their skin. Melanin, the chemical within the skin that causes the skin to tan and darken, and which also prevents the body from synthesizing vitamin D as effectively, is naturally more present within individuals with darker skin tones (such as African-American and Hispanic/Latin individuals), meaning that they may be more likely to have lower vitamin D levels and therefore be at further risk of an accelerated decline of cognitive faculties.
The question remains: what is it about Vitamin D that seems to help slow down cognitive decline in older individuals? Vitamin D has been linked intrinstically to the absorption of essential calcium into the body, and it also has benefits in preventing conditions such as rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults (both are conditions in which the bones become softened, generally through a vitamin D deficiency).
In addition, African-American and Hispanic/Latin individuals are among the racial groups in the United States less likely to consume the recommended amount of dairy products rich in vitamin D, which would, in theory, help to boost levels of the vitamin. The study found that, after speaking to the 50% of African-American and Mexican-American participants within the study, they found that a paltry 6.5% of the African-American participants consumed the levels of dairy products as recommended by the FDA, and only 11% of Mexican-American participants consumed the same recommended levels.
Charles DeCarli, the head of the Alzheimer’s Disease Center, expressed a desire to continue further research into these shocking and surprising findings.
“I don’t know if replacement therapy would affect these cognitive trajectories. That needs to be researched and we are planning on doing that. This is a vitamin deficiency that could easily be treated and that has other health consequences. We need to start talking about it. And we need to start talking about it, particularly for people of color, for whom vitamin D deficiency appears to present an even greater risk,” DeCarli said.
What the research means for the future of Alzheimer’s and dementia research is unclear. While DeCarli mentions the idea of a “replacement therapy,” the idea of introducing more vitamin D into the diets and lives of individuals suffering cognitive decline, particularly individuals with darker skin tones such as African-American and Hispanic/Latin individuals, seems both a laughably simple premise and a difficult challenge. However, while an actual cure for cognitive decline may be several years away, it appears to be a step in the right direction for helping manage and slow down such a destructive disease.