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Vitamin D Tied to Women’s Brain Health

Women who don’t get enough vitamin D as they age may be more likely to suffer cognitive decline and impairment, two new studies suggest.

The studies, published in the Journals of Gerontology, Series A (Journal of Gerontology: Biological Sciences and Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences), found that vitamin D, often called the sunshine vitamin, seems to play an important role in maintaining brain health in older women.

Researchers in France found that among women age 75 or older who were followed for seven years, higher vitamin D intake was associated with a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

In the study, 498 women, who took no vitamin D supplements, were divided into three groups: those who had Alzheimer’s, those who had no dementia, and those who had non-Alzheimer’s dementia.

Based on questionnaires about food, sun exposure and other factors, as well as cognitive-performance tests, the researchers found that the women who developed Alzheimer’s had the lowest level of vitamin D intake. Those who had the highest level of vitamin D dietary intake had a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s. The vitamin level seemed to have no effect on the risk of other forms of dementia.

Similarly, researchers at the VA Medical Center in Minneapolis found that among 6,257 older women, those who had low levels of vitamin D had a greater likelihood of developing cognitive impairment and decline. The women, who were followed for four years, had their blood level of vitamin D measured and were given cognitive-function tests to measure their mental skills.

The two studies follow research reported earlier this year by Wake Forest University School of Medicine that showed that both men and women who don’t get enough vitamin D – either from diet, supplements or sun exposure – may be at increased risk of developing problems with physical mobility and disability.

So does this mean taking a vitamin D supplement or getting some daily sunshine will help keep our brains sharp as we age? Unfortunately, things are not quite that simple.

The studies only found an association between the vitamin and cognitive decline, not a cause for the association. It could be that dementia interferes with the way the body absorbs vitamin D. Or that people who are suffering from Alzheimer’s don’t eat as well or get outside much. No one knows, exactly.

On the other hand, a daily walk in the sun certainly can’t hurt. And it might even help your gray matter.

In other health news:

Diabetes drug may help ovarian cancer. CBS News reports on a new study, published in the journal Cancer, that finds that a common diabetes medication called Metformin may be used in the prevention or treatment of ovarian cancer.

Grand jury investigating meningitis-linked pharmacy.  A grand jury is investigating the compounding pharmacy at the heart of a deadly meningitis outbreak, the Boston Globe reported on Saturday. The grand jury has begun issuing subpoenas to people who worked for the New England Compounding Center, which produced the tainted injectible steroid that has killed 36 people. Grand jury investigations, which are conducted in secrecy, are a step prosecutors take before determining whether to press criminal charges, Reuters reported.

Asperger’s to be dropped from psychiatric manual. Asperger’s disorder, which is related to autism, will be dropped as a separate disorder from the upcoming revision of the diagnostic guide used by the nation’s psychiatrists, the Associated Press reports. Instead, Asperger’s will be included under the umbrella category of autism spectrum disorder.

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