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Taking vitamin D may prevent Alzheimer’s disease, a new study shows. People who took vitamin D were 40 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those who did not.

The study involved more than 12,000 adults who were dementia-free at the time of enrollment. Participants provided information about their vitamin D intake and underwent regular cognitive evaluations over a period of 10 years.

Even after taking other risk factors into account, such as age, sex, education, race, cognitive diagnosis, depression, and whether they carried the APOE4 gene, people who took vitamin D were 40 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease during the study period than those who did not. APOE4 carriers who took vitamin D were 33 percent less likely to develop the disease than carriers who did not. Interestingly, women were more likely than men to develop Alzheimer’s disease, but taking vitamin D countered this effect.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is stored in the liver and fatty tissues of the body. Perhaps best known for its role in maintaining calcium balance and bone health, vitamin D plays critical roles in many physiological processes, such as blood pressure regulation, immune function, and cell growth. Poor vitamin D status is implicated in the pathogenesis of many acute and chronic diseases, including rickets, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, and cancer. Evidence suggests that low vitamin D concentrations are linked with severe outcomes in COVID-19.

The findings from this large study suggest that vitamin D protects the brain against Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers did not measure the participants' blood vitamin D concentrations, so they could not identify cutoffs that define risk. However, the Endocrine Society has determined that vitamin D concentrations less than 20 ng/mL (50 nmol/L) define “deficiency,” and concentrations ranging from 52.5 to 72.5 nmol/L (21 to 29 ng/mL) define “insufficiency.” They also recommend widespread testing for at-risk populations. Learn more about vitamin D in our overview article.

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