Behind the news: Exeter University Vitamin D and Dementia Study

Posted 7 August 2014 12:00 AM by Healthspan
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There is a lot of coverage in the news today about research published yesterday by the University of Exeter. The study was part-funded by the Alzheimer's Association and the summary finding was as follows:

"Vitamin D deficiency is associated with a substantially increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in older people, according to the most robust study of its kind ever conducted.

An international team, led by Dr David Llewellyn at the University of Exeter Medical School, found that study participants who were severely Vitamin D deficient were more than twice as likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease."

The University's own article on this study is here: http://www.exeter.ac.uk/news/featurednews/title_405559_en.html

The study-lead, Dr David Llewellyn, admits that from the outset they expected to see a link between Vitamin D deficiency and the risk of dementia, "but the results were surprising – we actually found that the association was twice as strong as we anticipated." he commented.

Who did the study look at?

1,658 healthy adults aged 65+ were monitored for 6 years for development of dementia, including Alzheimer's.

What did it find?

Participants who had a moderate deficiency in vitamin D had a 53% higher risk of developing dementia (69% higher risk of Alzheimer's)

Participants who had a severe deficiency had a 125% higher risk of developing dementia (122% higher risk of Alzheimer's)

So should you just get more vitamin D?

Commentators are quick to point out that while the study has shown a correlation between vitamin D levels and development of dementia, more research is needed to show a direct causal relationship between the two.

Dr Doug Brown, speaking on behalf of the Alzheimer's Society said: "While earlier studies have suggested that a lack of the sunshine vitamin is linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, this study found that people with very low vitamin D levels were more than twice as likely to develop any kind of dementia.

"During this hottest of summers, hitting the beach for just 15 minutes of sunshine is enough to boost your vitamin D levels. However, we’re not quite ready to say that sunlight or vitamin D supplements will reduce your risk of dementia. Large scale clinical trials are needed to determine whether increasing vitamin D levels in those with deficiencies can help prevent the dementia from developing."

What is the current advice on Vitamin D?

The UK government points out that you should be able to get the right amount of vitamin D from a balanced diet and summer sun, but recommends Vitamin D supplementation for certain at risk groups- which you can read about by clicking here

You can also read our factfile about vitamin D on Nutrition Expert.

What are the risks of Dementia?

If you would like to know more about risk factors for developing dementia, The Alzheimer's Society have an excellent overview here: http://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?documentID=102

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