An international team of researchers from the University of Exeter Medical School in England recently released the results of their study on Vitamin D and dementia. They determined that a Vitamin D deficiency substantially increases an individual’s risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
A New Jersey-based women’s health expert and advocate, Dr. Donnica Moore, M.D., one of the physician’s featured in the upcoming health series Feel Great with Jane Seymour, which is produced by the American Grandparents Association (AGA) and Detroit Public Television, does not find this surprising.
“The more we learn about Vitamin D, the more important we realize it is,” Moore says. “And the older we get, the more likely we are to be Vitamin D deficient because our kidneys can’t convert Vitamin D to its active form as easily. A large percentage of women over the age of 40 are Vitamin D deficient, and it’s a risk for men as well.”
According to the New England Journal of Medicine, over one billion people worldwide are deficient in Vitamin D. The risk is not just for dementia, but a Vitamin D deficiency can impact a host of other illnesses from depression to diabetes.
Diseases and Vitamin D – Low levels of Vitamin D have been linked to a wide range of disease including asthma, dementia, depression, diabetes, hypertension, hypoglycemia, rheumatoid arthritis and more. Dr. Moore warns, “Vitamin D deficiency has no short-term symptoms, but it does increase your longer term risks for health problems, Women – and men – should ask their doctor for a blood test to determine whether their Vitamin D levels put them at risk.”
How much do you need? – The National Institute for Health recommends adults between the ages of 50 and 70 get 400 IUs of Vitamin D daily, while those over 70 should get 600. However, the doctors affiliated with the Vitamin D Council, a nonprofit organization, recommend adults get 2,000 IUs of Vitamin D daily, a level the Institute of Medicine considers safe. Talk to your doctor to determine your individual risk factors to determine what is right for you.
Once you know your daily target, there are three ways to reach it:
- Sun exposure – Vitamin D is also called the Sunshine Vitamin because your body can produce it when it is exposed to sunlight.
- Diet – It is difficult to get the amount of Vitamin D you need from diet alone, but you should become aware of the dietary sources available to you.
- Supplements – Since Vitamin D is fat-soluble, it is possible to overdose. Read below to find out when and how to supplement effectively.
Sun Exposure – While you should not toss your sunscreen, you should be aware that most experts agree the most effective way to get Vitamin D, especially during the summer months, is through exposure to the sun. Twenty minutes a day is considered sufficient for most people, but if you are fair-skinned, that may be too much, and if you are dark-skinned, that may not be enough. You might have fun using this converter from the Norwegian Institute for Air which allows for a wide range of variables, but your dermatologist is best equipped to advise you what’s best for you. During the winter months, you will need to find a dietary source of Vitamin D and possibly have to use a supplement.
Dietary Sources – Sara Cowlan, MS, RD, CDN, a registered dietician who has practiced in New York City for 20 years has this to say about dietary sources: “It’s not easy to get the Vitamin D your body needs through diet alone,” Conlan says. “Some kinds of seafood, especially fatty fish like salmon, contain Vitamin D. Parents who gave their children cod liver oil in the winter months were on the right track, since it is another way to get Vitamin D. Egg yolks and mushrooms are other sources. But again, it’s not easy to get through diet alone, which is why so many foods, like milk, are fortified with it. Especially in the winter months, when we can’t synthesize sunlight to fulfill our needs, I think almost everyone can benefit from a supplement,” she says.
Supplements – Dr. Moore is wary of supplement abuse. “Supplements are great so long as you’re using them for a specific reason and understand what that reason is,” she says. “Again, I think it’s important to get a blood test and talk to your doctor before you add any kind of supplement.” Registered dietician, Sara Cowlan, agrees, “Too little Vitamin D is bad, but too much can be toxic.” Vitamin D toxicity can cause hypercalcemia, which can result in nausea, muscle weakness, mental confusion or even seizures.
Talk to your doctor about how much Vitamin D is right for you. “If your doctor does think you need a Vitamin D supplement, you’ll get the most benefit from it if you take it with a meal that contains fats and oils,” says Cowlan. “Also, be aware that the most recent studies suggest that taking several smaller doses is more effective than one large dose.”