The statistics on Alzheimer’s are staggering. Every 68 seconds, someone in America develops Alzheimers’s. Currently 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s. Almost 2/3′s of those who have Alzheimer’s are women. At this point, we don’t know exactly why Alzheimer’s develops. It is likely multi-factorial environmental and emotional stressors that are responsible, which is only partially helpful when you want to know what to avoid. Some exciting research about this epidemic illness is now emerging. Vitamin D is showing great promise in preventing Alzheimer’s. There are now two significant studies were been published in 2018. One came out in March and explains an interesting reason that Vitamin D may prevent the development of this illness. The other one was just recently published and examines a person’s Vitamin D intake and compares it to cognitive function and decline.
I think the one that was published in March is incredibly fascinating because it begins to reveal the process of Alzheimer’s development, though not all of the reasons behind it. Essentially, the clearance of something called amyloid-beta in the brain is crucial. If this is not cleared, this may contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s in the form of the plaques that damage brain function. The development of Alzheimer’s is commonly thought to be caused by the accumulation of this amyloid outside the neurons in the brain and the accumulation of protein tau inside neurons. We are only addressing the amyloid today.
It appears that beta amyloid builds up as part of the natural metabolic processes of the brain. What also appears to be normal, or required, for the maintenance of good health is the clearance of these amyloid over time. This could be thought of as the same way that metabolic waste gets cleared from the body. We already know that the clearance of this substance is done by macrophages, an important part of the immune system. Now you can bring this all together and know that a healthy immune system will be crucial in the prevention of Alzheimer’s. Let’s look at more of the specific information from the researchers.
The researchers found that there were two types of macrophages responsible for clearing these amyloid deposits. The Type II macrophages were found to have improved function with increased levels of Vitamin D. Interestingly enough, the Type 1 macrophages had improved function with the addition of curcumin, also known as turmeric. One could imagine that the researchers were searching among substances that were known to affect the immune system in some way, such as Vitamin D, and other substances which could slow oxidative damage, such as turmeric. They struck gold with their suppositions in this particular study. Bottom line, get your levels of Vitamin D up and consume your turmeric in your favorite meal, curry, stir fry, soup or whatever!
We still don’t know the exact mechanisms that cause either the Vitamin D or the curcumin to affect the macrophages. We only know that they do at this point. The other research related to Vitamin D and Alzheimer’s is a retrospective study. It looked at research gathered for the Study of Osteopathic fractures. At that time, the women were given evaluations of cognitive health. This information was published recently in the Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences.
The study found that the women who had low levels of Vitamin D, that being less than 10ng/ml (most labs show 30ng/ml as the low part of the normal reference range, but much of the research reveals that levels closer to 60ng/ml are more supportive of optimum health) already had signs of significant cognitive decline. Remember when having your labs performed that Vitamin D-25-Hydroxy is the correct lab to have done to check this level.
Women who had Vitamin D levels of less than 20ng/ml had a higher risk of cognitive decline, according to the tests done by the researchers (these were determined by the administration of standard cognitive tests including the mini-mental state examination and/or Trail Making Test Part B). The study also looked at women who currently had Alzheimer’s. Among those women, it discovered that those women had lower intakes of Vitamin D than their cognitively healthy counterparts. On average, their intake was at or less than 2,000IU per week! The dosage I recommend most to patients currently is 2,000 IU per DAY!
If you consume a vegan diet, it can be challenging to get enough vitamin D unless you live in a very sunny climate and make it a point to be outside for a significant portion of the day. Remember that Vitamin D is found in foods like fatty fish, butter, cheese or fortified milk. The options at this point are supplementation. Many people don’t realize that Vitamin D supplements are derived from sheep lanolin, a seemingly very odd source of this vitamin. Literally, most of the vitamin manufacturers I called derive their vitamin D from this source.
The one natural, vegan source of Vitamin D is mushrooms. At this point, it is not clear if it is possible or healthy to consume mushrooms in a high enough volume to create sufficient levels of Vitamin D. OK, now go outside for a walk! In any weather, even overcast, you will still get some Vitamin D exposure.
My recommendation: Check your levels of Vitamin D-25-Hydroxy every 6 months. Take at least 2,000IU per day of Vitamin D3. Take possibly more if you are very deficient, as advised by your health practitioner.