Vitamin D may help ward off dementia

Vitamin D is essential for good health for everyone, but it is especially crucial to the ageing adult.

Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to many illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, osteoporosis and asthma, and is believed to play a significant role in the prevention of other diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.

Some studies also suggest that vitamin D may also be linked to warding off dementia.

Dementia is the single greatest cause of disability in the aged, with an estimated three in 10 Australians over 85 years old living with the disease.

A further estimated one in ten people over 65 will also live with it and for whatever reason, these figures are constantly increasing.

Bupa’s Director of Aged Care Medical Services, Dr Tim Ross, believes that while vitamin D is imperative it is important to take a sensible approach as too much vitamin D may cause other issues.

“The main effect of vitamin D is to promote the uptake of calcium into the body, primarily for use in bone formation. To a lesser extent, it promotes phosphorus uptake as well. A lack of vitamin D may lead to rickets, where bones do not form properly which has many problems associated with it. Osteoporosis is also a higher risk,” tells Dr Ross.

“If you take too much vitamin D, you end up with an excess of calcium that leads to confusion, excessive drinking and urination, loss of appetite, vomiting, and muscle weakness.”
Old couple walking outside
Although recent studies have suggested vitamin D may be a culprit in cognitive degeneration, in this case, there are two sides to the research coin.

“There is conflicting evidence about the effect of a lowered level of vitamin D on cognitive function (brain thought function). Some studies have shown a difference in older people with normal levels of vitamin D versus those with lowered levels,” tells Dr Ross. 

“So there needs to be more research done but there is some evidence supporting maintaining normal vitamin D levels.”
There are few foods that contain vitamin D so the simplest and most effective way to get a daily hit is just outside your front door.

“Exposure to sunlight,” says Dr Ross. 

“Just 5 minutes sun exposure each day in the summer months can be enough to keep up normal levels of vitamin D, but in winter an hour or two may be required for the equivalent which is why many people become deficient in the winter months.”
If you do become deficient you may need to consider supplements in order to get the recommended daily allowance of 1000 IU per day.

“It is important to take supplements that are sufficient for replacement - most multivitamins are too low dose. 1000 I.U is a minimum and if you are deficient, there are 5000 I.U. and 10 000 I.U. tablets available that will be safe and effective,” tells Dr Ross.

If you suffer from an existing condition like coeliac disease, Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis,  or liver disease affecting the bile duct, it may affect the uptake of vitamin D supplements and synthesis in the body and seeking medical advice may be beneficial.
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