Sunshine could prevent dementia and strokes after scientists showed a direct link between vitamin D and conditions in a first global study.
A new study based on British people said cases of dementia could be reduced by nearly a fifth if people deficient in the vitamin took supplements to reach healthy levels.
It is known as the sunshine vitamin because the skin produces it when exposed to light.
The University of South Australia team surveyed almost 300,000 people from the UK Biobank to examine the impact of low vitamin D levels and the risk of dementia and stroke.
They found that low levels of vitamin D were associated with lower brain volumes and a higher risk of dementia and stroke.
Other genetic analyzes supported a causal effect of vitamin D deficiency and dementia.
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They said that in some populations up to 17 percent of dementia cases could be prevented by raising everyone to normal levels of vitamin D.
Dementia is one of the leading causes of disability and dependency among older people around the world, affecting thinking and behavior as you age.
Globally, more than 55 million people have dementia with 10 million new cases diagnosed each year. With no cure in sight, there is an increasing focus on preventative behaviors.
Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia affect more than 920,000 people in the UK, a figure set to rise to two million over the next three decades.
Study author Professor Elina Hyppönen, principal investigator and director of UniSA’s Australian Center for Precision Health, said the findings are important for dementia prevention and appreciate the need to eliminate vitamin D deficiency.
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“In this UK population, we found that up to 17 percent of dementia cases could have been prevented by increasing vitamin D levels to within a normal range,” he said.
“Our study is the first to examine the effect of very low vitamin D levels on dementia and stroke risks, using robust genetic analysis in a large population.
“Vitamin D is a hormone precursor that is increasingly recognized for its widespread effects, including on brain health, but until now it has been very difficult to examine what would happen if we could prevent vitamin D deficiency.
“In some settings, where vitamin D deficiency is relatively common, our findings have important implications for dementia risks.
“Dementia is a progressive and debilitating disease that can devastate both individuals and families.
“If we are able to change this reality by making sure that none of us have a severe vitamin D deficiency, it would also have more benefits and we could change the health and well-being of thousands.
“Most of us are probably fine, but for anyone who, for whatever reason, doesn’t get enough vitamin D from the sun, dietary modifications may not be enough and supplementation may be needed.”
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The genetic study analyzed data from 294,514 UK Biobank participants, examining the impact of low vitamin D levels (25 nmol/L) and the risk of dementia and stroke.
Nonlinear Mendelian randomization (MR), a method that uses measured variation in genes to examine the causal effect of a modifiable exposure on disease, was used to test the underlying causality of neuroimaging results, dementia, and the stroke.
The study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
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