More and more studies are showing that vitamin D3 protects your brain. It protects against MS, but also against Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. In the following I will review what evidence there is to support each of these topics.
Vitamin D3 protects your brain from multiple sclerosis (MS)
It has been known for some time that in the northern hemisphere MS is more common because of the lack of sunshine, which in turn produces less vitamin D3 in the skin.
MS is an autoimmune disease where immune cells attack the lining of nerves. Both nerve cells and immune cells have vitamin D receptors. It appears that immune cells are calmed down by vitamin D3 and remission of an MS relapse is more likely.
There are two forms of MS, the relapsing-remitting MS and the progressive MS. The first one (relapsing-remitting) is more common. After a bout of active MS, the illness calms down and the condition of the patient is stable for some time until the next relapse occurs.
With progressive MS there are two forms, primary progressive MS and secondary progressive MS. The primary form is a case of MS where symptoms steadily worsen, without any remission. The secondary form of progressive MS occurs at the end of fairly stable relapsing-remitting MS. Symptoms become more pronounced and the condition deteriorates steadily from there.
Progression and disability in MS patients with various vitamin D3 levels
Dr. Fitzgerald and colleagues published a study in JAMA Neurology in 2015.
They took 1482 men and women who were on interferon beta-1b treatment. This treatment utilizes the immunomodulator interferon beta-1b and reduces the number of relapses in patients with MS. The study took place between November 2003 and June 2005. Results were analyzed between June 2013 and December 2014. The researchers measured vitamin D levels (as 25-hydroxy vitamin D). The vitamin D levels were obtained at baseline, at 6 months and 12 months.
The number of brain lesions were measured by MRI scans. All of the patients also underwent a functional test, called expanded disability status scale. This measured impairment of ambulation, ability to communicate and activity levels.
Results of this study showed marked differences between patients with high and low vitamin D levels. Those patients who had the highest vitamin D blood levels (more than 40 ng/mL) had the lowest rates of new MS lesions. Previous studies had found that a low blood level of vitamin D (less than 25 ng/mL) in patients was associated with a much higher risk of developing MS. Dr. Fitzgerald’s study showed that a 50.0-nmol/L increase in serum vitamin D levels associated with a 31% lower rate of new MS lesions. Patients with the highest vitamin D level of more than 100 nmol/L had the lowest amount of new MRI lesions (47% less than the patients with the lowest vitamin D levels).
Another study showed that a low-dose vitamin D level accelerated MS. There was a 5.9-fold risk converting the initial relapsing-remitting form of MS into the secondary progressive form of MS.
All these studies show that vitamin D3 can decrease the risk of getting MS. In addition vitamin D3 also delays progression in those who have MS.
Vitamin D3 protects your brain from Parkinson’s disease
Vitamin D3 plays a role in preventing Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease that causes tremor in muscles, causes balancing problems and eventually can lead to dementia. A metaanalysis was done in 2014 and 7 studies where identified to be relevant. The authors were looking for correlation of vitamin D levels with Parkinson’s disease. 1008 patients were included in the metaanalysis with 4,536 controls.
- Patients with a vitamin D level of less than 75 nmol/L had a 1.5-fold higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease than the controls.
- Patients with a vitamin D level of less than 50 nmol/L were at a 2.2-fold higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
Another metaanalysis utilized 5,690 Parkinson’s disease patients and 21251 matched controls.
It found that vitamin D levels of less than 20 ng/ml were associated with a risk of 2.08-fold to develop Parkinson’s disease. Interestingly, vitamin D3 supplementation reduced the risk of Parkinson’s disease by 38%. Outdoor work reduced the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease by 28%.
Vitamin D3 protects your brain from Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease of old age. We know that it is much more common in patients with type 2 diabetes where insulin levels are high. Studies have shown that Alzheimer’s disease can be termed type 3 diabetes.
The resulting neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid-beta deposits damage nerve cells, which are responsible for the memory loss and the profound personality changes in these patients.
What does vitamin D3 have to do with this?
A 2014 study showed that a low vitamin D level was associated with a high risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Specifically the following observations were made.
- Vitamin D level of less than 10 ng/ml: 122% increased risk of Alzheimer’s
- Vitamin D level 10 to 20 ng/ml: 51% increased risk of Alzheimer’s
The same research group found in two trials that vitamin D deficiency leads to visual memory decline, but not to verbal memory decline.
Vitamin D3 combined with metformin suppresses cancer
The newest development with respect to vitamin D3 is the finding that it also has anti-cancer effects. Dr. Li demonstrated that vitamin D reduced prostate cancer cell line growth by 45% while metformin alone reduced it by 28%.
But when both vitamin D and metformin were present in the cell cultures there was growth inhibition of 86%. Dr. Li explained that vitamin D potentiated the growth inhibitory effect of metformin.
Vitamin D3 protects your brain: guidelines to proper vitamin D3 dosing
For years the medical profession stated that 400 IU of vitamin D3 would be enough supplementation. It may be enough to prevent rickets in children. But these low doses will be insufficient in many patients who are deficient for vitamin D to prevent MS, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease or cancer.
A study on medical staff in Northern India showed that 85% of the staff had very low vitamin D levels of less than 10 ng/ml.
It took high doses of vitamin D3 to increase the vitamin D level in the blood.
Generally supplements of vitamin D3 of 5000 IU to 8000 IU are the norm now. But some patients are poor absorbers and they may require 15,000 IU per day. What the patients need can be easily determined by doing repeat vitamin D blood levels (as 25-hydroxy vitamin D). The goal is to reach a level of 50-80 ng/ml. The optimal level with regard to nmol/L is 80 to 200 (according to Rocky Mountain Analytical, Calgary, AB, Canada).
Many people are deficient with regard to vitamin D, and they do not know it. The most important thing is to do a vitamin D blood test to assess your vitamin D status.
We know for a long time that vitamin D plays a role in bone metabolism and this is why women approaching menopause often need vitamin D3 supplementation. But it may come to you as news that vitamin D3 also protects from MS, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, as indicated above, we know that many cancers are suppressed by taking vitamin D3 regularly.
When you realize that all body cells have vitamin D receptors on their surface, it is no surprise that vitamin D3 is so important to take. The vitamin D3 receptors must be there for a reason. If your body is deprived of this valuable vitamin, the high risk of degenerative diseases will be the consequence.