Anybody who has experienced Alzheimer’s will know the helplessness that comes with this devastating disease. Anybody who has seen it in a friend or family member will know the pain that comes from seeing your loved one deteriorate.
A powerful leader accustomed to driving multiple operations will gradually lose command. A dedicated grandmother may forget the names of the grandchildren she loves.
When I read one woman’s story about how she came to accept that she had Alzheimer’s, my heart broke a little. She says:
“I think there comes a point in everyone’s life when we pause to reflect on the past, realize the present and look to the future. That happened for me at the age of 46. I’d been married for over 20 years. Our son was in his freshman year of college. I was happy in my job and my husband was looking forward to retirement.
“In the fall of that year I started to become forgetful – which was not like me at all. I had an almost photographic memory. I had a stressful job and worked long hours, so I blamed that for my forgetfulness. I couldn’t remember things like my home phone number, my associates’ names, or on bad days, how to get home.
“I remember that many times I would stop at a gas station. After filling my tank [I wouldn't] know whether I was going to work or coming home. I tried desperately to hide it and became pretty good at it! But one day in December, my husband and I were out shopping. He went to a different department in the store. The next thing I knew was that I couldn’t remember where I was or how I got there. It was time to fess up…”
Kris, from Georgia
Alzheimer’s can be a debilitating disease that can dramatically transform your life. It’s an insidious disease that can rock your confidence and rob you of your yesterdays. As one sufferer says, “I feel that I am robbed of any future because while I will live in it, I will be unlikely to remember it.”
It’s a brutal reality to have to accept. But scientists are offering hope in fighting the disease. Over 4,000 scientists attended the recent International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease. And amidst a flurry of presentations, they reported that simple vitamin D may be your best defense against Alzheimer’s.
“Sunshine” Vitamin Boosts Brain Function
Sounds too good to be true? Not according to a new study revealed at the conference. The study says that vitamin D deficiency raises your risk of mental decline by up to 394 percent.
The study is just the latest to show that the “sunshine vitamin” is essential to good brain health. It was conducted by the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, England. It reviewed participants as they completed a series of tests and exams.
Tests included memory, time and space orientation, and attention-focusing exercises. Vitamin D levels were measured from blood samples and compared with test performances.
“There are some fantastic findings this year,” said Professor William Thies, the chief medical and scientific officer of the Alzheimer’s Association. He said these findings “are some of the first reports of this type in Alzheimer’s” and “have the “potential to move the field forward.”
Study results showed that the risk of cognitive impairment was 42 percent higher in people deficient in vitamin D. Impairment was 394 percent higher in those who were severely deficient in it.
“The odds of cognitive impairment increase as vitamin D levels go down,” says study author David Llewellyn. “Given that both vitamin D deficiency and dementia are common throughout the world, this is a major public health concern.”
The Peninsula Medical School also worked on an earlier related study. It too offered evidence supporting this simple truth: seniors who get their daily dose of “sunshine” maintain stronger cognitive functioning.
Critical research, based on tests conducted on almost 2,000 U.K. senior citizens, showed a clear correlation between the presence of the “sunshine vitamin” and healthy mental function.
Sunshine is an important source of vitamin D. UVB rays initiate the production of the vitamin in human skin. Vitamin D also helps maintain strong bones (through the absorption of calcium and phosphorus) and a healthy immune system.
According to study author Dr. Iain Lang, the results indicate that individuals with the lowest levels of Vitamin D were 50 percent more likely to suffer impaired mental faculties. In other words, as vitamin D levels in seniors decreases, mental impairment increases.
“Getting enough vitamin D can be a real problem,” said Dr. Lang. “Particularly for older people, who absorb less vitamin D from sunlight. One way to address this might be to provide older adults with vitamin D supplements.”
Older people lose their capacity to absorb Vitamin D from sunlight as the body ages. That means they must seek other sources of the “sunshine vitamin.”
Sources of “Sunshine”
According to Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, Vitamin D can also be found in foods such as oily fish and eggs. She adds that these foods are key sources of vitamin B12, which studies have shown to also help in protecting the brain.
Maggie Ward – nutrition director at The UltraWellness Center in Lennox, MA – says the best animal source is liver, especially from cod, herring, and sardines.
“That’s why those living in dark climates have these fish as a staple in the diet,” she says. “Nature always knows best.”
But she believes the best source of vitamin D is simple, old-fashioned sunlight.
“This is one of the many reasons I love summer,” she says. “I get my vitamin D from the sun and have one less supplement to take.”
Supplement Your Sunshine
The Vitamin D Council offers several good tips to ensure you get just the right amount of “sunshine.” Check out these four ideas:
“Vitamin D supplements have proven to be a safe, inexpensive, and effective way to treat deficiency,” says Llewellyn. “However, few foods contain vitamin D and levels of supplementation in the U.S. are currently inadequate.”
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