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Too Little Vitamin D Can Be Aging Your Brain Faster, New Study Says—Here's How to Fix It

Learn what a certain vitamin deficiency could mean for your brain health.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

We've always known vitamin D is vital for strong healthy bones and when we lack the essential nutrient, mood changes can happen, fatigue, muscles weakness and now accelerated brain aging, according to a study. "Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with reduced neurocognitive functioning and the neurodegenerative processes." Jagdish Khubchandani, Professor of Public Health at New Mexico State University who is not affiliated with the study tells us. 

Dr. Khubchandani explains, "The research indicates deficiency of Vitamin D is linked with accelerated brain aging and reduced total brain density and gray matter mass (gray matter is outer layer of brain responsible for controlling thinking, memory, emotions, and body movement) The researchers looked at MRI data and vitamin D levels from more than 1800 people in the general population and found the link between vitamin D and brain structure."

"This new study adds to the existing knowledge base on the link between vitamin D and brain function," Dr. Khubchandani adds. "Beyond the new study indicating the relationship between structures of the brain and Vitamin D, the vitamin is also linked with brain function directly and indirectly (due to alteration in brain structure)."  Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What to Know About the Study


1,865 people participated and structural MRI data and vitamin D levels were obtained. The study states, "linear regressions were applied to investigate the association of vitamin D levels and vitamin D deficiency with imaging derived brain age, total brain, gray matter and hippocampal volumes. Different sets of covariates were included. Vitamin D deficiency was significantly associated with increased brain age. Also, linear vitamin D levels were significantly associated with total brain and gray matter volumes, while no significant association with hippocampal volume was found."

In addition, the "results from previous studies suggest that low vitamin D levels and vitamin D deficiency are involved in the pathophysiology of various neuropsychological deficits and accelerated brain aging and impaired memory functioning. In this study, we sought to investigate whether low vitamin D levels were associated with altered volumes of the gray matter as well as of the whole brain in a large population-based sample. In addition, we investigated putative associations of vitamin D levels with imaging patterns of brain aging. Finally, considering the key role of the hippocampus for learning and memory performance, we aimed at investigating the relation of vitamin D levels and hippocampal gray matter volume."


Vitamin D is Important

Young Woman Taking Yellow Fish Oil Pill.

Vitamin D is something we need to be healthy and our bodies can produce it when our skin is exposed to sunlight, but also by eating certain foods like salmon, tuna, fortified orange juice and plant milks fortified with vitamin D. It's something we need to help absorb and retain calcium, which is needed to lower the risk of bone density loss that can lead to osteoporosis and fractured bones. In addition, Harvard T.H. Chan says, "Also, laboratory studies show that vitamin D can reduce cancer cell growth, help control infections and reduce inflammation. Many of the body's organs and tissues have receptors for vitamin D, which suggest important roles beyond bone health, and scientists are actively investigating other possible functions." 

Dr. Khubchandani says, "Vitamin D is almost like a neurosteroid. There are receptors for this vitamin in our brain and spinal cord. The vitamin is also linked with activation and metabolism of enzymes influencing neurotransmitter function". In the human brain, vitamin D increases the removal of plaques that cause toxicity and brain damage leading to dementia. Furthermore, Vitamin D is related to brain blood vessel functions and may help reduce the risk of stroke. Still, there is a lot of debate about the value of vitamin D supplementation as the natural processes in our body may differ from artificial supplementation. For example, reverse causation can be a challenge (i.e., does aging/dementia cause an unhealthy diet with lower consumption of vitamin D or vice versa)."


Vitamin B is Good for the Brain

taking pill

Vitamin B vitamins are another way to help maintain brain health. The Cleveland Clinic states, "The B vitamins – 1,2,3,6,9, and 12 – play an important role in brain health. They may help prevent dementia and boost the production of neurotransmitters – chemicals that deliver messages between neurons in the brain and body. Without a steady supply of this nutrient, which the body doesn't store, we are at higher risk for cognitive decline, including memory loss and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's."

According to Dr. Khubchandani, "Some studies show that specific types of Vitamin B (e.g. folic acid ) may provide neuroprotective effects, whereas others suggest that multiple types of  Vitamin B  (folate, B12, and B6) are required to help prevent problems with brain structure and function and to reduce the risk of cognitive decline. The key biological mechanism appears to be that adequate Vitamin B levels in our body may help with reduction of blood levels of biochemical markers that are toxic or disrupt blood vessel function. Despite several studies in the past few decades providing evidence of the involvement of B vitamins in brain aging, there is still some lack of clarity on the type of vitamin B needed to prevent brain aging and the value of artificial supplementation. It is therefore imperative to consume all types of vitamin B.


Vitamin E and Brain Health

Woman taking supplements.

According to the Mayo Clinic, "Vitamin E is a nutrient that's important to vision, reproduction, and the health of your blood, brain and skin…Research on vitamin E use for specific conditions shows:Alzheimer's disease. Some research has shown that high-dose vitamin E might delay the progression of Alzheimer's disease in people who have been diagnosed with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease. Other studies haven't shown this benefit. Vitamin E supplements appear to have no effect on whether people with mild cognitive impairment progress to Alzheimer's disease."

Dr. Khubchandani explains, "Several studies show that vitamin E may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties which help reduce toxic oxidative stress, toxicity, and cell damage in the brain. More recently, studies also suggest that this vitamin may also help with biomolecular functions such as gene expression, electric signal transmission, and neuroprotection. Similar to other vitamins, there is a debate about the value of vitamin E due to reverse causation (aging leading to lower consumption of vitamin E and vice versa), lack of clarity on what isoform of the vitamin E is most beneficial, and if blood availability of vitamin E is based on genetic makeup."


Vitamin C

woman taking dose of medicine while sitting on bed

Vitamin C is needed for the growth and repair of tissue. It's also widely known to help immunity and one of the things people commonly turn to especially during flu season. In addition, "it is a vital antioxidant molecule in the brain, according to a study

Dr. Khubchandani states, "Vitamin C plays a role in nerve cell/ neuron development, differentiation, maturation, and the formation of the cover of nerve cells. It also helps with functioning of various neurotransmitters and the antioxidant role is also established. Given these properties it is postulated that vitamin C has a protective effect on the brain in ensuring proper function and reduction in toxic stress to the brain that is linked with dementia."


The Best Course to Good Brain Health

happy woman jogging by the beach on a sunny day

Dr. Khubchandani emphasizes, "there are two options. If you take a vitamin supplement, ensure that you take a multivitamin as all the aforementioned ones may influence each other in preventing brain aging. Second and better option is to go natural given the lack of clarity on value of diet supplements and artificial supplementation" According to Harvard health, the natural ways to prevent brain aging, structure, and function are to eat a plant-based diet, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, manage your stress  and nurture social contacts."

In addition, there are several ways to keep your brain young. Harvard Health lists the following methods. 

Get Mental Stimulation

"Through research with mice and humans, scientists have found that brainy activities stimulate new connections between nerve cells and may even help the brain generate new cells, developing neurological "plasticity" and building up a functional reserve that provides a hedge against future cell loss. Any mentally stimulating activity should help to build up your brain. Read, take courses, try "mental gymnastics," such as word puzzles or math problems. Experiment with things that require manual dexterity as well as mental effort, such as drawing, painting, and other crafts.

Improve Your Blood Pressure

High blood pressure in midlife increases the risk of cognitive decline in old age. Use lifestyle modification to keep your pressure as low as possible. Stay lean, exercise regularly, limit your alcohol to two drinks a day, reduce stress, and eat right.

Improve Your Blood Sugar

Diabetes is an important risk factor for dementia. You can help prevent diabetes by eating right, exercising regularly, and staying lean. But if your blood sugar stays high, you'll need medication to achieve good control.

Improve Your Cholesterol

High levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol are associated with an increased risk of dementia. Diet, exercise, weight control, and avoiding tobacco will go a long way toward improving your cholesterol levels. But if you need more help, ask your doctor about medication.

Consider Low-Dose Aspirin

Some observational studies suggest that low-dose aspirin may reduce the risk of dementia, especially vascular dementia. Ask your doctor if you are a candidate.

Avoid Tobacco

Avoid tobacco in all its forms.

Don't Abuse Alcohol

Excessive drinking is a major risk factor for dementia. If you choose to drink, limit yourself to two drinks a day.

Care For Your Emotions

People who are anxious, depressed, sleep-deprived, or exhausted tend to score poorly on cognitive function tests. Poor scores don't necessarily predict an increased risk of cognitive decline in old age, but good mental health and restful sleep are certainly important goals.

Protect Your Head

Moderate to severe head injuries, even without diagnosed concussions, increase the risk of cognitive impairment."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather