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Consumption of Vitamins D and K May Keep Memory Diseases Away

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Eggs, rice, cheese, salmon and a chalkboard sign saying Vitamin D

Photo by yulka3ice, courtesy of Getty Images

In order to achieve a well-balanced diet for long term health, we should consume foods with a variety of essential nutrients. However, the nutrient needs of our bodies tend to change over time, and as we get older, our dietary necessities change. Two important nutrients, vitamins D and K, have been associated with a lower risk of conditions like dementia and cognitive impairment, which are more likely to develop as we age. 

ARS-funded research, in collaboration with the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, IL, is studying the benefits of vitamins D and K, particularly how they lower the risk of developing neurodegenerative disorders. These disorders can cause progressive damage to cells and nervous system connections that are needed for mobility, coordination, strength, sensation, and cognition, such as in learning and memory. Alzheimer’s disease, the most common neurodegenerative disorder, is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. 

As part of the research project to learn about the benefits of vitamins D and K, researchers conducted studies to measure how higher consumption of these nutrients affect the brain. The results concluded that higher concentrations of vitamin K in the brain were associated with 17% to 20% lower odds of dementia or mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and with 14% to 16% lower odds of Braak stage, which is a method that measures progression of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease by the type and severity of symptoms. In addition, higher concentrations of vitamin D in the brain were associated with 25% to 33% lower odds of dementia or MCI at the last visit before the person's passing. 

image a pile of fruits, vegtables, and nuts, including almonds, apricots, tomato, spinach, and zucchini.

Photo by ratmaner, courtesy of Getty Images

Eating dark leafy greens aids people to achieve the recommended intakes of vitamin K. A single serving of dark leafy greens, such as spinach, kale, or lettuce, is rich in nutrients like vitamin K, lutein, nitrate, folate, vitamin E, and kaempferol, which may help to slow cognitive function decline with aging. This conclusion came from a prospective study of 960 participants of the Memory and Aging Project, ages 58-99 years. On the other hand, vitamin D is found in fatty fish and fortified products, such as dairy and plant milks.

“There's only so many green leafy vegetables you can eat in a day, and just the way your body processes them, it's safe.” explained Sarah Booth, a senior scientist at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, MA.

For this reason, Booth turned to the dietary guidance for adults, which recommends the consumption of approximately one serving of dark leafy greens that will meet our daily vitamin K needs, among other nutrients. Furthermore, knowing how much or how little a supplement to consume to gain certain nutrients can be tricky. In the case of vitamin D, there are concerns that consuming too much can be detrimental to one’s bone health. People can also consult with their doctor to learn more about the proper intake of supplements. 

The next step for this research is to study how these vitamins affect different parts of the body. Early results have indicated that individuals who are prone to diabetes (pre-diabetic) due to low levels of vitamin D were often given supplemental vitamin D. This may help slow the progression of developing full diabetes, but more research needs to be done to confirm these results. By Olga Vicente, ARS’s Office of Communications