In a compelling editorial published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers argue there is convincing evidence vitamin D deficiency negatively impacts brain development in the fetus and exacerbates the progression of brain disorders in adults.
The past decade has seen a surge in research investigating the role of vitamin D in brain function. The empirical evidence consists of:
- A clear link between vitamin D and brain function from in vitro and animal studies
- Mixed results from population studies
- Mixed results from a small number of randomized controlled trials (RCT)
From this body of research, the authors conclude there is evidence for vitamin D deficiency in utero as a causative factor in neurodevelopmental disorders such as schizophrenia. They hypothesize an “absence of vitamin D deprives the developing brain of an expected signal.”
In contrast, vitamin D deficiency in adults is unlikely to cause a brain disorder per se, but likely aggravates it once it begins. Multiple sclerosis, dementia, and depression are complex disorders originating from a combination of risk factors, including vitamin D deficiency, but once they have started there is emerging evidence that supplemental vitamin D can halt or limit their progression.
A modest, yet exciting, recent RCT published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that vitamin D supplementation helped slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease (PD). While vitamin D did not cure PD, those in the placebo group saw a steady worsening of their symptoms compared to those in the treatment group. We blog on that study here.
PD is a neurological disorder affecting muscle control and balance. It is associated with the loss of nerve cells that produce dopamine. Recently, scientists discovered that the vitamin D receptor is most strongly expressed in dopamine-rich areas of the brain, which could explain vitamin D’s neuroprotective effects in PD progression.
In conclusion, more and more research continues to show a neuroprotective effect of vitamin D in the development and progression of an assortment of brain disorders. While the research in this area of neurology is in its infancy, it provides yet another compelling reason to optimize your vitamin D level, especially if you are pregnant or diagnosed with a brain disorder.