The Role of Vitamin D in Brain Health
A hormone that regulates more than 5% of your protein encoding human genome.
My mum called me a week ago with her blood test results. Amongst the many biomarkers assessed, one that stood out was her Vitamin D status- it was shockingly low. When she heard me in shock horror she said “that’s fine, isn’t Vitamin D just for good for your bones”.
This has prompted an urgent newsletter topic on the role of Vitamin d in brain health!
As most of you know, I've been fascinated with vitamin D for years, and literally last century, the only primary benefit that most would vitamin D was noticed for was improving bone health or decreasing things like rickets and osteomalacia. But now we know there's been over 6000 articles published in vitamin D this century dominating the unbelievable diverse metabolic benefits that it has.
What’s funny is that most articles published over 5 years ago really only looked at bone health but more recently, we’re starting to see articles published that show the relationship between vitamin D and brain. health.
In fact, vitamin D receptors are widespread in brain tissue and it has been shown to be neuroprotective by way of clearance of amyloid plaques, a hallmark of Alzheimer's Disease.
I was digging through the research and found many studies that link the associations between Alzheimer’s Disease and cognitive impairment. In these studies, the risk of cognitive impairment was up to four times greater in the severely deficient elders (25(OH)D < 25 nmol/L) in comparison with individuals with adequate levels (≥ 75 nmol/L).
So Neuro Athletes, take a seat as we dig into the brain boosting benefits on Vitamin D.
But before we do…..
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Vitamin D is a steroid hormone that is a major regulator of immune function and plays a particularly important role in immunity, bone health and cognitive health. Ample evidence from in vitro and animal experiments suggests an important role in the expression of neurotrophic factors (the stimulation of adult neurogenesis), calcium homeostasis, and detoxification. Cognitive impairment is common in elderly adults and a causal relationship between vitamin D status and brain dysfunction would have major public health implications.
While scientists refer to vitamin D as a vitamin, it is actually a steroid hormone obtained from sun exposure, food sources, and supplementation. Common types of vitamin D are vitamin D2 and D3. Compared to D2, vitamin D3 is 87 percent more effective, and is the preferred form for addressing insufficient levels of vitamin D.
Why Vitamin D Deficiency is a Growing Problem
Recent large observational data have suggested that ~40% of Europeans are vitamin D deficient, and 13% are severely deficient. Certainly, vitamin D is not a panacea, however, deficiency is associated with osteomalacia in adults (referred to as rickets in children). Osteomalacia is a skeletal disorder characterized by soft, improperly formed bones, growth retardation, muscle weakness and spasms, low blood calcium, and seizures.
A low vitamin D status is emerging as a very common condition worldwide, and several studies from basic science to clinical applications have highlighted a strong association with chronic diseases, as well as acute conditions. Moreover, the large amount of observational data currently available are also accompanied by pathophysiological associations of vitamin D with energy homeostasis, and regulation of the immune and endocrine systems.
Vitamin D and Neurodegenerative Diseases
Vitamin D is neuroprotective, regulates the immune system and helps with calcium balance. It is also involved with regulating many genes important for brain function. Although vitamin D is thought of as a vitamin, it acts as a neurosteroid and plays important roles in the brain.
Over the past several years, vitamin D deficiency has been associated with an increased risk of such brain-related disorders as Parkinson's disease, dementia, and, most compellingly, MS. In a 2004 analysis of data on more than 187,000 women enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study published in Neurology, a team of Harvard researchers reported that those who ingested more vitamin D from food (approximately 700 IU/day) had a 41 percent lower risk of MS compared to women with lower intakes; those who took vitamin D supplements (400 IU/day or more) had a 33 percent reduced risk of developing the disease compared to those who did not.
What about the link between vitamin D and cognitive performance?
One study, published in Environmental Research and Public Health, found that increasing levels of vitamin D in women was associated with better cognition and, in both men and women, it was associated with better attention span.
The implications of many recent studies link higher vitamin D levels with optimal brain health and cognitive functioning as we age and these results are not to be underestimated.
So whether it’s by consuming vitamin D-rich foods like fatty fish, checking with your doctor about supplementation, or even through mild sun exposure, as far as brain health and function are concerned, vitamin D levels deserve our attention.
Vitamin D and Traumatic Brain Injury
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the most common trauma worldwide and is a leading cause of injury-related death and disability. Inflammation is initiated as a result of the TBI, which is in association with severity of illness and mortality in brain trauma patients, especially in subdural hemorrhage and epidural hemorrhage cases.
A high percentage of adults admitted to the intensive care unit with TBI are diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency; this deficiency may induce impaired immune responses and increase the risk of infections.
Optimising vitamin D status may increase resiliency to mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) and improve symptom recovery following injury by attenuating the inflammatory response and maintaining testosterone levels.
Vitamin D deficiency elevates systematic inflammation, meaning that poor vitamin D status at the time of blast may prolong inflammatory response to mTBI and exacerbate post-concussive symptoms.
The Vitamin D and Vitamin K2 Connection
Another critical point to remember is you shouldn't take any vitamin D supplement without taking vitamin K2. Vitamin K2 deficiency is connected to vitamin D toxicity symptoms, which includes excessive calcification that can contribute to the hardening of your arteries.
One of the functions of vitamin K2 is to direct calcium to areas in your body where it is needed, such as your bones and teeth. It also functions to keep calcium away from areas where it shouldn’t be, including your soft tissues and arteries.
When you take vitamin D, your body creates more of these vitamin K2-dependent proteins, the proteins that will move the calcium around. They have a lot of potential health benefits. But until the K2 comes in to activate those proteins, those benefits aren't realized. So, really, if you're taking vitamin D, you're creating an increased demand for K2. And vitamin D and K2 work together to strengthen your bones and improve your heart health.
For every 1,000 IUs of vitamin D, you can benefit from about 100 to 200 micrograms of vitamin K2.
What does this mean for you?
The first step to optimising your vitamin D levels is to get a blood test. I have written extensively on vitamin D within the Neuro Athletics newsletter however this newsletter was aimed to express the importance of vitamin D on brain health.
I hope you enjoyed this one.
Until next time,
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