The more we learn about vitamin D, the more we realize its vast and irreplaceable role in human health. So, it’s no surprise that low levels are not only linked to many of the risk factors for Alzheimer’s such as imbalanced blood sugar, immune dysfunction, and poor vascular health, but inadequate levels of this sunshine vitamin also mean big trouble for brain cells.
Vitamin D is synthesized by the interaction between UVB waves from sunlight and cholesterol molecules within the skin. And although we can make this vital vitamin, most people are suffering from low levels either from lack of sunlight exposure or higher demands for vitamin D within the body. The reality is that most people now wear sunscreen when exposing themselves to rays or spend too much time indoors. Regardless of the reason for deficiency, it’s critical to correct the imbalance to promote optimal health and brain function.
In fact, vitamin D is crucial for at least five direct functions within the nervous system:
- Protects against excitotoxicity, which damages and kills brain and nerve cells
- Reduces oxidative stress, safeguarding brain cells against free radicals
- Promotes nerve and brain cell development and synaptic plasticity
- Boosts neurotrophic factors, which support new brain cell growth
- Regulates neurotransmitter levels.
When vitamin D is low, neurological disease risk is higher.
Vitamin D deficiency makes people more vulnerable to various neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.
A study found that people with a severe vitamin D deficiency (under 10 ng/mL) are at a 122% increased risk of cognitive decline, and people who were just deficient (under 20 ng/mL) had a 51% higher risk of all-cause cognitive decline.
Keeping a close eye on vitamin D levels is essential for protecting the brain, which is why it’s a part of every screening I perform. While conventional doctors may settle for a level above 30 ng/mL, other research suggests that anything under 50 ng/mL falls short of the disease-prevention zone. My goal is to get my patients above the 50 ng/mL mark but not over 80 ng/mL, which increases your risk of toxicity. It’s difficult for most people to get enough sun or eat enough vitamin D-containing foods to make a large enough impact on brain health, so supplementation is usually necessary.
Driving vitamin D levels up to a healthy range is essential for preventing and treating cognitive decline, but it’s not the only factor to consider when protecting your brain. Many imbalances can lead to damage within the brain. That’s why I use comprehensive screening tools to assess each of my patient’s cognitive health risks. Armed with that information, we can build an effective protocol to support optimal brain function.