Sunday, December 15, 2013

Low Vitamin D, Widespread in Elderly, Damages Brain


Low levels of vitamin D, also called "The Sunshine Vitamin", have been associated with Alzheimer's disease in the past. Read about a new study that reveals why. See which foods are best.

A new study led by University of Kentucky researchers suggests that a diet low in vitamin D causes damage to the brain.

In addition to being essential for maintaining bone health, newer evidence shows that vitamin D serves important roles in other organs and tissue, including the brain. Published in Free Radical Biology and Medicine, the UK study showed that middle-aged rats that were fed a diet low in vitamin D for several months developed free radical damage to the brain, and many different brain proteins were damaged as identified by redox proteomics. These rats also showed a significant decrease in cognitive performance on tests of learning and memory.

"Given that vitamin D deficiency is especially widespread among the elderly, we investigated how during aging from middle-age to old-age how low vitamin D affected the oxidative status of the brain," said lead author on the paper Allan Butterfield, professor in the UK Department of Chemistry, director of the Center of Membrane Sciences, faculty of Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, and director of the Free Radical Biology in Cancer Core of the Markey Cancer Center. "Adequate vitamin D serum levels are necessary to prevent free radical damage in brain and subsequent deleterious consequences."

Previously, low levels of vitamin D have been associated with Alzheimer's disease, and it's also been linked to the development of certain cancers and heart disease. In both the developed world and in areas of economic hardship where food intake is not always the most nutritious, vitamin D levels in humans are often low, particularly in the elderly population. Butterfield recommends persons consult their physicians to have their vitamin D levels determined, and if low that they eat foods rich in vitamin D, take vitamin D supplements, and/or get at least 10-15 minutes of sun exposure each day to ensure that vitamin D levels are normalized and remain so to help protect the brain.

Getting the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance

RDAs for vitamin D are listed in the following table in both International Units (IUs) and micrograms (mcg); the biological activity of 40 IU is equal to 1 mcg. Even though sunlight may be a major source of vitamin D for some, the vitamin D RDAs are set on the basis of minimal sun exposure.
Vitamin D Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) 
Age Male Female Pregnancy Lactation
0–12 months*400 IU
(10 mcg)
400 IU
(10 mcg)
1–13 years600 IU
(15 mcg)
600 IU
(15 mcg)
14–18 years600 IU
(15 mcg)
600 IU
(15 mcg)
600 IU
(15 mcg)
600 IU
(15 mcg)
19–50 years600 IU
(15 mcg)
600 IU
(15 mcg)
600 IU
(15 mcg)
600 IU
(15 mcg)
51–70 years600 IU
(15 mcg)
600 IU
(15 mcg)
>70 years800 IU
(20 mcg)
800 IU
(20 mcg)
* Adequate Intake (AI)

Foods with Vitamin D

Very few foods in nature contain vitamin D. The flesh of fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel) and fish liver oils are among the best sources.

Small amounts of vitamin D are found in beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks. Vitamin D in these foods is primarily in the form of vitamin D3. Some mushrooms provide vitamin D2 in variable amounts. Mushrooms with enhanced levels of vitamin D2 from being exposed to ultraviolet light under controlled conditions are also available.

Fortified foods provide most of the vitamin D in the American diet. For example, almost all of the U.S. milk supply is voluntarily fortified with 100 IU/cup. (In Canada, milk is fortified by law with 35–40 IU/100 mL, as is margarine at ≥530 IU/100 g.) In the 1930s, a milk fortification program was implemented in the United States to combat rickets, then a major public health problem. Other dairy products made from milk, such as cheese and ice cream, are generally not fortified. Ready-to-eat breakfast cereals often contain added vitamin D, as do some brands of orange juice, yogurt, margarine and other food products.

Several food sources of vitamin D are listed in the following table:

Selected Food Sources of Vitamin D
Food IUs per serving* Percent DV**
Cod liver oil, 1 tablespoon1,360340
Swordfish, cooked, 3 ounces566142
Salmon (sockeye), cooked, 3 ounces447112
Tuna fish, canned in water, drained, 3 ounces15439
Orange juice fortified with vitamin D, 1 cup (check product labels, as amount of added vitamin D varies)13734
Milk, nonfat, reduced fat, and whole, vitamin D-fortified, 1 cup115-12429-31
Yogurt, fortified with 20% of the DV for vitamin D, 6 ounces (more heavily fortified yogurts provide more of the DV)8020
Margarine, fortified, 1 tablespoon6015
Sardines, canned in oil, drained, 2 sardines4612
Liver, beef, cooked, 3 ounces4211
Egg, 1 large (vitamin D is found in yolk)4110
Ready-to-eat cereal, fortified with 10% of the DV for vitamin D, 0.75-1 cup (more heavily fortified cereals might provide more of the DV)4010
Cheese, Swiss, 1 ounce62
* IUs = International Units.
** DV = Daily Value.

University of Kentucky


  1. Jeriel T.R. Keeney, Sarah Förster, Rukhsana Sultana, Lawrence D. Brewer, Caitlin S. Latimer, Jian Cai, Jon B. Klein, Nada M. Porter, D. Allan Butterfield. Dietary vitamin D deficiency in rats from middle to old age leads to elevated tyrosine nitration and proteomics changes in levels of key proteins in brain: Implications for low vitamin D-dependent age-related cognitive decline. Free Radical Biology and Medicine, 2013; 65: 324 DOI:10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2013.07.019

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