A new study is out today linking vitamin D deficiency and the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s. Not only does milk do a body good, it helps keep your mind strong. The risk in older people doubles when they have a vitamin D deficiency.

The study, published in Neurology, evaluated levels of vitamin D in the bloodstream. It monitored vitamin D from multiple sources, including dietary intake, sun exposure and if the participants took any supplements. Those looking to boost their intake via diet can try cheese, milk and eggs. Fatty fish, such as tuna, mackerel and salmon also contain vitamin D.

Lead researchers were surprised by the result, finding the link stronger than they anticipated. Study author David J. Llewellyn commented on the findings. “We expected to find an association between low Vitamin D levels and the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, but the results were surprising—we actually found that the association was twice as strong as we anticipated.”

For a quick primer on dementia, it is characterized by a decline in thinking and memory. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia associated with age. About 5 million Americans suffer from the disease. With the baby-boomer generation aging, the rate of Alzheimer’s is expected to increase 300% by 2050.

The study followed 1,678 healthy people over the age of 65. Vitamin D levels were monitored. Six years past the start of the study, 171 participants had developed dementia and 102 had Alzheimer’s.

Those with low levels of vitamin D increased their risk of developing dementia by 54 percent. Participants with a marked deficiency increased their risk by 125 percent. The numbers for Alzheimer’s were 70 and 120 percent respectively. Even after adjustments for education, smoking and alcohol use, the results remained unchanged.

What does it mean going forward? New studies will have to be commissioned to determine what types of foods can lower the risk. Is it a matter of changing your diet, or supplementing it?

The researchers were quick to point this out, urging further study. “We need to be cautious at this early stage and our latest results do not demonstrate that low vitamin D levels cause dementia. That said, our findings are very encouraging, and even if a small number of people could benefit, this would have enormous public health implications given the devastating and costly nature of dementia.”

In the end, you can’t go wrong with eating a balanced diet that includes vitamin D. Don’t rush out to your local store and buy enough supplements to stock a small warehouse. There’s nothing wrong with grabbing a glass of milk or having salmon for dinner.

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