Vitamin D Combats Mental and Physical Decline With Aging

Two new studies have offered evidence that Vitamin D can have a huge effect on the way a person ages. Both studies focused on aging women and compared the amount of Vitamin D consumed with the degree of cognitive impairment.

A study conducted at the VA Medical Center in Minneapolis by Yelena Slinin, MD, MS, analyzed results from the Study of Osteopathic Fractures and the Mini-Mental State Examination and/or Trail Making Test Part B. These two studies surveyed 6,257 community-dwelling older women, measuring their Vitamin D intake, among other factors. Slinin found that low Vitamin D levels are associated with higher levels of cognitive impairment.

Cedric Annweiler, MD, PhD, at the Angers University Hospital in France performed a similar study. His findings were based on the nearly 500 older women who participated in the Toulouse cohort of the Epidemiology of Osteoporosis study. Annweiler found that women who developed Alzheimer’s disease tended to have lower Vitamin D intake than those who developed other forms of dementia or who experienced no cognitive impairment at all.

Other Benefits of Vitamin D

Vitamin D plays many roles in a person’s health. Its main function is to help your body maintain proper levels of calcium and phosphorous. It also increases your body’s ability to absorb calcium effectively. You can use Vitamin D to help improve your bone density and reduce the risk of fractures. Recent research is beginning to show that the risk of diseases like cancer, osteoporosis and hypertension can all be reduced with sufficient intake of Vitamin D.

Vitamin D Sources

Ensuring you have enough Vitamin D in your diet is not difficult. The following are common sources of this vitamin:

The Sun: Your body has the ability to synthesize Vitamin D when it comes in contact with sunlight. While excessive exposure to the sun can lead to skin cancer and should be avoided, moderate exposure is useful. Exposing yourself to the sun for about 20 minutes a day (without sunscreen) will help ensure you have enough of this nutrient.

Wild Salmon: Salmon can provide large quantities of Vitamin D. Half a filet can give you twice the amount you need in a day. Unfortunately, wild salmon can be more expensive and harder to find than its farmed cousin. However, if you can find a good source of wild salmon you will have access to all the Vitamin D you need.

Milk: In the 1930s, the United States implemented a milk fortifying program to help fight rickets. The program succeeded, and today milk is one of the most common food sources of Vitamin D. While you will not get as much of this vitamin out of a cup of milk as you could from a filet of salmon, milk is an easy addition to almost any diet.

Supplements: Most people are able to easily meet their Vitamin D needs through sun exposure and diet. However, if you are worried that this is not enough for you, speak to your doctor about starting a supplement regimen.

Other Ways to Fight Cognitive Impairment

Studies like the ones previously mentioned show that Vitamin D is an effective way to fight cognitive impairment, but it’s not the only tool available. One of the most effective ways to keep your mind sharp as you age is to constantly challenge it. Mentally stimulating activities like crossword puzzles, language learning, reading and writing can all delay (and in some cases reduce the effects of) dementia.

Staying physically and socially active is another way to help control cognitive impairment. Physical activities include walking, swimming, gardening and playing golf. Social activities include playing card games, attending the theater, and traveling. The more often you engage in physical and social activities the more effective they are in fighting cognitive impairment.

Finally, living a healthy lifestyle in general has been shown to reduce the cognitive effects of aging. Controlling diabetes, quitting smoking, and lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol levels will keep your body healthy and your mind sound.

Aging does not need to imply a decline in mental abilities. Research like these two new diabetes studies continues to show that there are steps that everyone can take to stay healthy. Vitamin D is just the beginning.

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