Study of vitamin D as Alzheimer preventive “matter of urgency”

David Llewellyn, PhD, at the University of Exeter (UK) has received a $100,000 grant from the Alzheimer’s Association, among other awards, for his study of vitamin D as a potential biomarker of and therapy for dementia, brain shrinkage, and other ‘neuroimaging abnormalities’.

The study is a continuation of recent work by Dr. Llewellyn and a team of international collaborators, which identified for the first time a link between low vitamin D3 and the onset of new cognitive problems. (See “Vitamin D, cognitive dysfunction and dementia in older adults,” Archives of Internal Medicine, Aug 1, 2011.)

The ongoing study will involve researchers at Exeter (Prof David Melzer), the University of Michigan (Prof Kenneth Langa), Johns Hopkins (Dr. Paulo Chaves), and the University of Washington (Dr. Bryan Kestenbaum).

“Unfortunately, the underlying causes of dementia are still largely unknown, and current options for prevention and treatment are limited,” says Dr. Llewellyn. However, he adds, “the high proportion of vitamin D deficiency seen in people with cognitive impairment and dementia may provide us with an important clue [and] Given the coming dementia epidemic, we need to investigate new therapeutic strategies such as vitamin D supplementation as a matter of urgency.”

“Few foods contain vitamin D, synthesis from sunlight is not possible for much of the year at northern latitudes, and skin becomes less efficient at producing vitamin D with age.”

Over 800,000 people in the UK now have dementia and this costs the UK economy £23 billion per year – more than cancer (£12 billion per year) and heart disease (£8 billion per year) combined. The average cost for each person with dementia, £27,647, is greater than the average UK salary. As the population ages the number of people with dementia in the UK will double over the next 30 years, with costs likely to rise to over £50 billion a year. The global burden of dementia is also staggering and more than 115 million people across the globe will suffer from dementia by 2050

Source: Adapted from Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry, news release, Nov 9, 2011

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