Striking back at Alzheimer’s Disease and Non-Alzheimer’s Dementia: Can Vitamin D and Sunlight Help?

Striking back at Alzheimer’s Disease and Non-Alzheimer’s Dementia: Can Vitamin D and Sunlight Help?

By: Marc Sorenson, EdD, Sunlight Institute–


One of the fears of aging is that memory will fade and full-fledged Alzheimer’s disease will develop. Amyloid plaques, consisting of tangles of amyloid protein (a complex protein resembling starch) in nervous tissue, are pathological markers of Alzheimer’s disease that are found in the spaces between the brain’s nerve cells. Recent research indicates that vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids may help to remove these plaques and thereby reduce the risk or severity of Alzheimer’s.[1] The research, described in a press release from UCLA, compared the immune system changes and inflammatory markers in the blood from two different groups, one group with Alzheimer’s and another without the disease.

The researchers showed that both vitamin D and omega 3 improved the ability of macrophages, large white blood cells, to clear amyloid plaques in those with Alzheimer’s. Macrophages work by folding themselves around foreign particles and then disposing of them—a process known as phagocytosis. Cell death caused by Alzheimer’s disease was also diminished, and inflammatory markers diminished in those who suffered from excessive inflammation.

This whole process indicates that D and omega 3 have an enhancing influence on the immune system. Dr. Fiala, one of the researchers, stated the following: “We may find that we need to carefully balance the supplementation with vitamin D3 and omega-3 fatty acids, depending on each patient in order to help promote efficient clearing of amyloid-beta. This is a first step in understanding what form and in which patients these nutrition substances might work best.”

This information provides further knowledge on the relationship of Alzheimer’s to vitamin D levels, which has been suspected for some time. It has been shown that high dietary intake of vitamin D correlates to reduced risk of Alzheimer’s of about 77% compared to those with the lowest intake.[2] Other studies from both Europe and the US have established a link between low vitamin D and Alzheimer’s.[3] [4] [5]

As impressive as the correlation of low vitamin D and Alzheimer’s, it pales in comparison to the potential of vitamin D to reduce the risk of non-Alzheimer’s dementia. A seven-year study showed that the risk of non-Alzheimer’s dementia was 19.7 times higher in people who had vitamin D levels less than 10 ng/ml (severely deficient) than those who had higher levels.[6]

All tissues in the body have vitamin D receptors, and the brain and central nervous system must have vitamin D to function properly. A little non-burning sunlight exposure at midday can produce vast quantities of vitamin D. If the memory is fading fast, it may be time to spend more time in the sun. Remember that sun exposure is the only natural way to obtain that vitally important hormone, vitamin D.



[1] Champeau R. Vitamin D, omega-3 may help clear amyloid plaques found in Alzheimer’s. UCLA Newsroom Feb 2013.

[2] Annweiler C et al. Higher Vitamin D Dietary Intake Is Associated With Lower Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease: A 7-Year Follow-up. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2012 Apr 13. [Epub ahead of print]

[3] Soni M et al. Vitamin D and cognitive function. Scand J Clin Lab Invest Suppl. 2012;243:79-82.

[4] Grant WB. Does vitamin D reduce the risk of dementia? J Alzheimer’s Dis 2009;17(1):151-9.

[5] Pogge E, Vitamin D and Alzheimer’s disease: is there a link? Consult Pharm. 2010;25(7):440-50.

[6] Annweiler C, et al. Serum vitamin D deficiency as a predictor of incident non-Alzheimer dementias: a 7-year longitudinal study. Dement Geriatr Cogn Disord 2011;32(4):273-8.


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