New Study Finds Vitamin D Sufficiency Is Tied To Key Cognitive Health Factors
Due to the location of vitamin D receptors (VDR) throughout the nervous system1, researchers have known vitamin D has an impact on cognitive function, working memory, and even mood for over a decade now. However, many studies are conducted in individuals with vitamin D deficiency (which includes almost one-third of U.S. adults2, for the record), rather than people with sufficient vitamin D levels. A recent study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health3 wanted to see if there is a positive correlation between cognitive function and sufficient vitamin D levels in healthy aging adults, instead.
What's vitamin D got to do with cognitive function?
Throughout the past 20 years, a lot of brain health research has focused on vitamin D and cognitive function4. Through these studies, researchers have discovered that healthy levels of this essential fat-soluble micronutrient help transfer information between neurons5, support cellular immune factors in the brain, and even protect the structure and function of neurons—which is especially vital as we age. The science is clear: Vitamin D is a key player when it comes to everyday function of the nervous system.
Your brain on vitamin D
While we know vitamin D deficiency is inversely related to brain health parameters, studies analyzing cognitive function in those who have achieved vitamin D sufficiency are few and far between. Thus, the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health study explored the relationship between cognitive performance and vitamin D levels in healthy middle- to older-aged adults.
Women in the study had an average serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D [i.e., 25(OH)D] level of 31 ng/ml while men averaged 34 ng/ml—both slightly above the clinical cutoff for vitamin D insufficiency of 30 ng/ml. All participants had 25(OH)D levels above 20 ng/ml (which is considered the cutoff for vitamin D deficiency) and were tested for these vitamin D levels and cognitive health and performance metrics throughout the study.
What researchers found
Women with increased (i.e., sufficient) levels of vitamin D had better global cognition (i.e., overall cognitive function) and longer attention spans, aka attention accuracy. Interestingly, improvement of attention accuracy plateaued around 25(OH)D levels of 32 ng/ml. In men, sufficient vitamin D levels were also associated with improved attention accuracy.
Thanks to the patterns of association between cognitive performance and vitamin D status, researchers determined that a dose-response relationship (i.e., increasing levels of the "sunshine vitamin" to help promote and preserve cognitive function) may exist—especially in women.
This data supports what mindbodygreen already knew to be true: maintaining vitamin D sufficiency throughout the lifespan is crucial to supporting brain health (and a host of other aspects of our health) now and as we age.
This important study adds to the ever-growing evidence that achieving (and maintaining) sufficient vitamin D levels supports multidimensional aspects of cognitive function and overall brain health. That being said, it's nearly impossible to get enough vitamin D from sunshine and food alone daily and throughout life. (That's where a high-quality vitamin D3 supplement comes in.*)
mindbodygreen's vitamin D3 potency+ is a high-potency, science-backed daily dose of vitamin D3 (the most bioavailable form of vitamin D) that is expertly designed to promote vitamin D sufficiency for life.* This dynamic D formula delivers 5,000 IU of sustainable, organic algal vitamin D3 and features built-in absorption technology (via a trio of organic olive, avocado, and flaxseed oils) in just one daily gelcap, making the journey to a lifetime of vitamin D sufficiency as easy as possible.*
Morgan Chamberlain is a supplement editor at mindbodygreen. She graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science degree in magazine journalism and a minor in nutrition. Chamberlain believes in taking small steps to improve your well-being—whether that means eating more plant-based foods, checking in with a therapist weekly, or spending quality time with your closest friends. When she isn’t typing away furiously at her keyboard, you can find her cooking in the kitchen, hanging outside, or doing a vinyasa flow.