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Dementia is one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older people worldwide, affecting thinking and behaviours as you age. But what if you could stop this degenerative disease in its tracks?

A world-first study from the University of South Australia could make this a reality as new genetic research shows a direct link between dementia and a lack of vitamin D.

Investigating the association between vitamin D, neuroimaging features, and the risk of dementia and stroke, the study found:

  • low levels of vitamin D were associated with lower brain volumes and an increased risk of dementia and stroke
  • genetic analyses supported a causal effect of vitamin D deficiency and dementia.
  • in some populations as much as 17 per cent of dementia cases might be prevented by increasing everyone to normal levels of vitamin D (50 nmol/L).

Dementia is a chronic or progressive syndrome that leads to deterioration in cognitive function. About 487,500 Australians live with dementia and it is the country’s second leading cause of death. Globally, more than 55 million people have dementia with 10 million new cases diagnosed every year.

Supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council, the genetic study analysed data from 294, thyroxine for dogs dosage 514 participants from the UK Biobank, examining the impact of low levels of vitamin D (25 nmol/L) and the risk of dementia and stroke. Nonlinear Mendelian randomisation (MR) — a method of using measured variation in genes to examine the causal effect of a modifiable exposure on disease — were used to test for underlying causality for neuroimaging outcomes, dementia, and stroke.

Senior investigator and Director of UniSA’s Australian Centre for Precision Health, Professor Elina Hyppönen, says the findings are important for the prevention of dementia and appreciating the need to abolish vitamin D deficiency.

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