Vitamin D

More Information On Vitamin D.

Studies of vitamin D have been on the rise in recent years, and with good reason—a 2009 estimate suggests that nearly three quarters of teens and adults in the U.S. are deficient in this vital nutrient. Vitamin D deficiency not only causes rickets, a skeletal disorder in which the bones are soft and weak, but has also been associated with a rapidly increasing range of chronic conditions like cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Now, two new studies suggest a link between vitamin D and neurological disorder: Older people with insufficient vitamin D levels may be more likely to develop Parkinson's disease and experience cognitive decline.

Humans can obtain vitamin D by eating oily fish or fortified foods, and it is also photosynthesized in the skin upon exposure to adequate amounts of ultraviolet B (UVB) rays in sunlight. Major factors that influence vitamin D status in humans include season, latitude, age, skin tone, diet and supplement use. The U.S. Institute of Medicine currently recommends that adult men and women aim for a daily intake of 200 to 600 International Units (IU) of vitamin D.

New guidelines for vitamin D intake were published online July 12 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal by scientists from Osteoporosis Canada, a nonprofit organization. Because vitamin D influences calcium absorption and may protect against osteoporosis, the authors advise an increased daily intake of 400 to 1000 IU for healthy Canadians under age 50, and up to 2000 IU for those older than 50. The researchers state the changes are necessary because winter sunlight north of the 35th parallel (which coincides with the southern border of Tennessee) provides insufficient UVB for people living in that region to adequately make vitamin D.

The studies by Knekt and Llewellyn are not the first to link vitamin D deficiency with neurological problems, however. A role for vitamin D has previously been suggested in multiple sclerosis, autism and schizophrenia.

Some experts advise interpreting the results of these and other observational studies of vitamin D with caution. The above studies relied on participants from specific geographic areas, so more study is needed to determine whether the findings apply to other regions. Furthermore, "low vitamin D levels may simply be a marker for lower health status rather than a cause of it," Andrew Grey, professor of medicine at the University of Auckland, wrote in an editorial in the Archives of Internal Medicine. This is because vitamin D levels are directly related to sunlight exposure and physical activity; less healthy individuals are therefore likely to be less active and more sunlight-deprived, and have lower levels of vitamin D. (That is, is vitamin D deficiency coincident with other findings, or the cause thereof?)

Jul 13, 2010 11:30 AM in Mind & Brain

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