Could Vitamin D protect against Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia? The media recently wrote about this after a new study:
- The Telegraph: Study: sunshine “could help to stave off dementia”
- Science Daily: Link between vitamin D, dementia risk confirmed
However, there are a few important points to keep in mind. The study is based solely on statistical associations (an observational study). The statistics show that people with dementia are more commonly Vitamin D deficient. But this doesn’t mean that we know what the cause is.
We know from similar previous studies that almost all diseases are more common in people with Vitamin D deficiency. However, it may just as well be that for some reason people with diseases are less often out in the sun than healthy people.
If you only look at the statistics, you might think that Vitamin D is the all-time magic bullet that with some luck, may cure any disease. The most incredible pill that ever existed. However, it isn’t that fantastic.
To know for sure you need to test Vitamin D supplements in large high-quality studies to see what the effect is. Existing studies investigating supplementing with Vitamin D show more modest results than the fantastic hopes.
Maintaining a good Vitamin D level through supplementation (or sun) seems to, on average, have small or moderately positive effects on the immune system (including in several autoimmune diseases like MS), muscle strength and coordination, bone density, mood as well as fat and lean mass. It might also, on average, slightly prolong life.
Large reviews of existing studies on supplementation don’t, however, show any significant protective effect on common diseases such as heart disease, cancer or stroke. When this is tested, it will probably also be shown to apply to Alzheimer’s. But we don’t know yet.
Personally, I continue to supplement with Vitamin D daily, especially during the winter months. This is the only supplement I take daily. I think it’s good for my health and well-being – but I don’t expect any miracles. Continue Reading →
A new review of studies on vitamin D supplementation show that it does not have a major effect on common chronic diseases. There is no evidence that the risk for heart disease, cancer or stroke is significantly reduced. However, a small reduction in the risk of death (in other words a longer life) was seen in older women taking vitamin D supplements.
- USA Today: Review of vitamin D studies finds little health benefit
- BBC: Vitamin D not needed for healthy people, study finds
- MailOnline: Why taking vitamin D is “pointless”: Review finds taking supplement does little to prevent chronic disease or early death
In previous studies, relatively small doses of vitamin D were given (800 IU, or less, daily) for limited periods of time and to relatively small groups of people. Currently, several high quality studies (supplementation with high doses to larger groups of people for longer periods of time), and the first results are expected to come in 2015. They will give us much more reliable knowledge.
We can, however, already conclude that any potential effect on heart disease, cancer and stroke is limited (probably at best less than a 15% reduction in risk). Supplementing with vitamin D does not give us immunity to our most common causes of death – if anybody expected it to.
However, very exciting findings remain, indicating that avoiding vitamin D deficiency may provide other health effects. When it comes to treatment for depression, certain pain conditions, reduction of abdominal fat and various diseases associated with the immune system (asthma, seasonal allergies, eczema, MS and upper respiratory tract infections) there are many smaller studies demonstrating a positive effect.
There are many more ongoing studies on Vitamin D – including several gigantic studies as mentioned above – and we’ll soon know more.
It may be that some people have been too enthusiastic: Vitamin D is not a miracle cure for every disease (which uncertain observational studies may lead you to think). But many likely positive effects remain. And it’s still a harmless and promising way of improving your odds for keeping healthy and feeling well during the winter months.
A couple of scientists have now determined why hobbits and elves usually win over orcs, even when they are severely outnumbered. The good guys’ secret weapon? Vitamin D.
- ScienceShot: Why Hobbits Always Win
- The Medical Journal of Australia: The hobbit – an unexpected deficiency
This is of course a tongue-in-cheek statement. Being both a fantasy nerd and a Vitamin D nerd I find it quite funny.
However, imagine if it weren’t fantasy literature that was examined, but real history – perhaps the result would have been the same? What do you think?
Should pregnant women take Vitamin D supplements, and if so, how much?
No other vitamin deficiency is as common during the dark winter months as the sun vitamin. Therefore, supplementing to avoid deficiency during pregnancy makes a lot of sense.
A recent study shows that supplementing Vitamin D reduces the risk of common pregnancy complications, such as high blood sugar and high blood pressure. Despite a very low dose – only 400 IU daily, compared to placebo – there were significantly positive results.
As previous studies have shown the same results (a lower blood sugar, a lower blood pressure, lower insulin levels) from supplementation in non-pregnant people, the results from this study are clearly credible.
What Dose is Appropriate During Pregnancy?
I usually recommend a dosage between 2,000 IU daily (small women) to 5,000 IU (large men) for adults during the dark winter months. For young children 1,000 IU daily may be appropriate.
The above are the doses needed to avoid severe deficiency and where the risk of overdosing hardly exists.
I see no reason for pregnant women to take lower doses than this. The requirement will likely be at least as great during pregnancy. A previous study on 4,000 IU Vitamin D given daily to pregnant women showed, furthermore, that this was completely safe and cut the risk of infections and preterm birth in half.
When my spouse was pregnant she took 4 – 5,000 IU Vitamin D daily. Since birth, my daughter Klara has received 1,000 IU Vitamin D drops daily. She couldn’t be healthier or more perfect (of course). She’s also the least autistic child I know.
Do you have an interesting experience with Vitamin D supplementation?
Parkinson’s disease is a common cause of debilitating complaints in predominantly older people. They experience successively increasing problems with stiffness and tremor. Two celebrities affected by the disease are Muhammed Ali and Michael J. Fox.
The cause is death of neurons in the brain that govern motor control. The treatment is providing dopamine supplements in various ways, which increases the activity in the remaining nerve cells. It’s effective as long as sufficient nerve cells remain (in early stages of the disease), but in the long run it’s less successful.
Now there may be a new addition to the arsenal of treatment. This is another application for Vitamin D, in which many people are deficient.
A new study tested supplementation of 1200 IU daily (as compared with placebo) over a year’s time, to patients with Parkinson’s. Only the control group experienced the typical successive worsening of symptoms, while the Vitamin D group did not.
What is the cause?
The discovery is exciting but it isn’t necessarily Parkinson’s disease in itself that is being stopped. Vitamin D supplementation has been shown before to improve muscle strength in elderly people [1 2], as well as reducing the risk of falling [1 2 3 4]. In younger subjects it may improve athletic performance. All of these effects may be connected to an observed increase in the testosterone levels in the bodies of Vitamin D-deficient people given supplements.
Thus, Vitamin D supplements have been shown to have a positive effect on muscle strength and balance in the elderly. It may be this effect that we see in the study on Parkinson’s disease. Or there may be an additional positive effect.
Either way, it appears wise for elderly people who want to improve their mobility to avoid Vitamin D deficiency. Whether they have Parkinsson’s disease or not.
Do you know someone who could benefit from knowing this?
Do you want to lose weight? Here’s part 12 of 17 in a series of blog posts on the subject. You can read the whole series on the How to Lose Weight page.
12. Supplement vitamins and minerals
Your body needs a certain amount of essential vitamins and minerals to function properly. What happens when you don’t get enough of them? What happens when you eat too little food, or when the food you eat isn’t sufficiently nutritious? Perhaps our bodies catch on and reply by increasing hunger levels. After all – if we eat more, we increase the chances of consuming enough of whatever nutrient we are lacking.
On the other hand, reliable access to vitamins and minerals could perhaps mean decreased hunger levels and decreased cravings, thereby promoting weight loss.
The above is, of course, speculation. But now there are well-performed studies which suggest it might not be far from the truth. Continue Reading →
MS is a dreaded disease that often affects young people and may cause severe lifelong disabilities. For some reason the immune system attacks the nervous system damaging it. There is no cure, only drugs that, at best, may slow disease progression. There is a great need for something else to use in the battle against MS.
Last fall two Swedish scientists warned that people with vitamin D deficiency were more frequently affected by MS. A previous study has also shown that people with MS who were randomized to receive vitamin D supplements became healthier than the control group [1 2]. This isn’t too surprising as vitamin D affects the function of the immune system, and vitamin D deficiency is common.
One more study now shows that vitamin D supplementation may slow or prevent disease progression in cases of suspected MS, that were detected early. In this study vitamin D doses of 50 000 IU weekly were used, i.e. approximately 7 000 IU daily. More about the study:
Even more studies on MS and vitamin D are currently under way, but this already looks very promising. Presently, it makes sense for anyone suffering from MS to supplement with vitamin D. It is safe, so the potential gains (fewer lifelong disabilities) are gigantic in comparison to the cost.
Do you know anyone who should know about this?
PS: How much vitamin D should you take if you have MS? My general recommendation is 2 000 – 5 000 IU daily depending on body weight. The two studies that have shown a positive effect on MS used doses of 3 000 and 7 000 IU daily, respectively. Thus, my recommendation for MS patients is 5 000 IU daily. If you’re taking significantly higher doses than this over a long period of time, you should check your blood levels of vitamin D.
Here’s well-timed news for people suffering from seasonal allergies: A new study, small but well designed, shows improvement with supplementation of vitamin D.
The participants (35 people with seasonal allergic rhinitis) received either vitamin D (4000 IU daily) or placebo for two weeks. Beyond this both groups received the same treatment. The group getting vitamin D experienced less daytime problems with sneezing, nasal congestion and runny noses:
Observe that the study has only been presented at a scientific conference – meaning it’s not published yet. The result thus has to be taken with an extra pinch of salt. And we need another, larger study for proof. But it still sounds promising.
How much time did our ancestors spend in the sun? And does it matter for your health today?
A new study provides an interesting clue. Continue Reading →
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