Can Vitamin D Support A Healthy Brain? Here's What We Know

mbg Senior Sustainability Editor By Emma Loewe
mbg Senior Sustainability Editor
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care."
Closeup portrait of a beautiful young woman at the beach at sunset

Image by Trinette Reed / Stocksy

Vitamin D is a vitamin and hormone that plays a role in keeping many parts of the body running smoothly. A popular daily supplement, vitamin D is commonly used to support immunity and strengthen bones.* But emerging research is finding that it could be advantageous for brain function, too, and potentially help protect against neurodegenerative diseases down the line.* mbg reached out to Nicole Avena, Ph.D., an assistant professor of neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and visiting professor of health psychology at Princeton University, with some quick-fire questions about the links between vitamin D and brain health. Here's an overview of what we know about how vitamin D could be a building block to a healthier brain.*

The links between vitamin D and brain health.

"Vitamin D deficiency can be related to increased onset of dementia, as vitamin D plays a role in preventing oxidation and inflammation in the body," Avena explains.*

According to one meta-analysis conducted last year that reviewed 11 studies on a total of 21,784 participants, there does appear to be a connection between vitamin D deficiency and increased risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer's.* In another review published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, vitamin D concentrations were found to be "significantly lower" in individuals with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of cognitive impairment.*

As to why vitamin D deficiency might increase one's risk of certain neurodegenerative diseases, it seems that adequate vitamin D levels are associated with a reduction in amyloid beta and phosphorylated tau, two brain proteins that are hallmarks of Alzheimer's.* However, more research needs to be done to further solidify the link between vitamin D deficiency and dementia and the mechanisms that drive it.

In addition to potentially playing a protective role against age-related brain disorders, vitamin D could help with daily brain functioning, says Avena.* For starters, it might help ease brain fog, or the decreased ability to remember and think clearly. "Considering vitamin D deficiencies are related to the onset of dementia, a disease that affects memory, it is likely that a vitamin D deficiency can affect other facets of memory," she says.

In addition, Avena says that vitamin D receptors often appear in the same area of the brain that is responsible for the formation of new memories. "This may be compelling evidence that vitamin D is related to the proper creation of new memories," she adds. "Compounding this with vitamin D's possible role in preventing dementia, it seems even more plausible.*" 

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How to get enough vitamin D.

Vitamin D is most often found in three places: the sun, food, and supplements. When UVB rays from sunlight hit the skin, they prompt the body to form vitamin D on its own. Certain foods such as fatty fish, milk, and eggs also contain vitamin D naturally or are fortified with it. However, Avena says, it can be hard to get the daily recommended dose of vitamin D (200 to 600 I.U.s, according to the NIH) from diet and sun exposure alone.

"I often suggest that people take a supplement, especially if you live in a northern climate and don't get outside in the sun too often," she says, adding that she recommends supplements that use vitamin D3 instead of D2, as it is better at improving vitamin D levels in the body.

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According to functional medicine physician Alejandra Carrasco, M.D., vitamin D deficiency is associated with a number of conditions including autoimmune diseases, chronic inflammatory conditions, thyroid conditions, and fertility issues. So if you are experiencing any of these, or simply want to invest in brain health now and into the future, you might want to start introducing a daily vitamin D supplement into your routine.*

mindbodygreen's hemp+ supplement combines vitamin D3 with other brain-supporting ingredients like full-spectrum hemp oil, rosemary, and black cumin seed for a powerful multivitamin. In addition to delivering the benefits of isolated vitamin D, the multi also promotes a steadier mood, and reviewers say that it helps them handle the stressors of everyday life from a more relaxed and positive place.*

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The bottom line.

Vitamin D is essential to many processes in the body, and research is finding that it could play an important role in maintaining brain health.* To prevent a vitamin D deficiency, you can spend more time in the sun (safely) or eat more vitamin-D-rich foods, but it might be easier and more effective to add a daily supplement to your routine.*

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