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High Vitamin D Levels in Midlife May be Associated With Better Cognitive Function in Later Life

Loss of cognitive function is common as we age, but research is identifying factors that may influence the degree of cognitive function an individual will experience. According to a recent study, consuming more vitamin D at midlife may help improve cognitive function in later years in people with a lower educational level.

Participants in the study included 1009 people who had their vitamin D plasma levels measured at midlife.  Thirteen years later, they had their cognitive function measured by trained neuropsychologists. The neuropsychologists used phonemic and semantic fluency tasks to measure lexical-semantic memory, forward digit span to measure short-term memory, backward digit span for working memory, and number-letter switching task for mental flexibility.

The researchers found that vitamin D levels were most strongly associated with working memory in people with low education. They found no association between vitamin D and any cognitive function in people who were better educated.

The researchers acknowledged that the lack of measurement of cognitive function at baseline meant they could not track cognitive decline.  This made it difficult to draw a clear correlation between vitamin D levels and cognitive decline, as it is possible that the people with low vitamin D levels had lower cognitive function at baseline.

Additionally, the researchers suggested that the results may be due to the phenomenon of cognitive reserve, which refers to the mind’s resistance to damage to the brain. The brains of individuals with high cognitive reserve appear to be able to continue functioning well despite neuropathological damage. Some studies have proposed that higher education increases cognitive reserve.

Researchers from Université Paris 13 and the Sorbonne in Paris conducted the study. It was published online ahead of print on April 13, 2015 in The British Journal of Nutrition.

Previous studies have associated vitamin D with reducing the risk of skin damage, reducing the risk of osteoporosis, combating diabetes, and improving age related macular degeneration.

Vitamin D can be found in milk, fortified cereals, fish, and eggs. Your body also processes vitamin D from the sun but it becomes harder for our bodies to process it as we age. A high quality vitamin D supplement is always a good option if you feel that you’re not getting enough through diet and sun.

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