If you were told to take your vitamins as a child, you were given good advice, not only for your body, but also for your brain. A study published in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging finds that low vitamin D levels are associated with increased brain aging.
Vitamin D is an important vitamin that plays a significant role in metabolic processes. It is best known for its involvement in regulating calcium and phosphate in the body, but it does much more than that. A deficiency of vitamin D has been linked to impaired memory, problems with executive function and general cognitive impairment.
Mixed research has been conducted on whether vitamin D deficiency is related to dementia risk. Regardless, research seems to agree that vitamin D has remarkable effects on brain structure and function in humans. This study sought to further explore vitamin D’s relationship with the brain, including gray matter volume and imaging patterns of aging observed.
For their study, Jan Terock from University Medicine Greifswald and his colleagues used data from 1,865 participants aged 20 to 82 from the study of health in Pomerania trend baseline, which is a German population-based cohort study. Participants underwent an MRI for all imaging, which focused on gray matter, white matter, intracranial volume, brain age, total brain volume, and volume of the left and right hippocampus. Brain age was calculated using chronological age and brain volume. Vitamin D levels were measured through blood tests.
The results showed that vitamin D deficiency had a significant effect on brain aging in this sample. Increased vitamin D levels were linked to brain matter volume, particularly gray matter volume and total brain volume. These relationships are only significant in older adults, although non-significant similar patterns emerge in younger participants.
These results were also only significant for male participants, which gives rise to further research into gender differences in underlying mechanisms related to vitamin D and brain function. In any case, the results suggest that vitamin D may have a protective quality in relation to the brain.
“In summary, our results support previous findings suggesting that individuals with vitamin D deficiency have advanced brain aging,” the researchers explained. “In addition, finding positive associations between vitamin D levels and gray matter volumes and especially hippocampal volume, our findings indicate that the beneficial effects of vitamin D on neuroprotection and proliferation may lead to MRI-detectable brain structural changes.”
This study took important steps to better understand the relationship between vitamin D and brain aging and function. Despite this, there are limitations to note. One such limitation is that this study is cross-sectional and does not allow drawing any causal conclusions. Future research should include a longitudinal design. In addition, vitamin D was only measured at one point and may not be representative of normal vitamin D levels.
“In conclusion, our results from a large sample of a general population consisting of adults from all age groups support the concept that vitamin D plays an important role in maintaining the neuronal integrity of the brain,” the researchers wrote. “However, given that the data are cross-sectional, it cannot be determined whether vitamin D should be considered a factor in the development of brain aging or as a marker of brain health status.”
The study, “Vitamin D deficiency is associated with accelerated brain aging in the general population”, was written by Jan Terock, Sarah Bonk, Stefan Frenzel, Katharina Wittfeld, Linda Garvert, Norbert Hosten, Matthias Nauck, Henry Völzke, Sandra Van der Auwera, and Hans Jørgen Grabe.