50+ health * Healthy living * Mental wellbeing

Fish really is good for the brain! And sunshine, but not too much!

Large study links vitamin D to better cognitive function in older people

Eating fish – long considered ‘brain food’ – may really be good for the brain, as is a healthy dose of sunshine, according to research to be published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.

Middle aged and older men with higher levels of vitamin D in their blood performed "consistently better" in neuropsychological tests designed to assess mental agility.

Scientists from the University of Manchester and European partners, compared the cognitive performance of more than 3,000 men aged 40 to 79 years at eight test centres across Europe.

They found that men with higher levels of vitamin D were able to process information faster. The association was found to be particularly strong in men over the age of 60.

Past research in the area has produced inconsistent results. However, lead researcher Dr. David Lee from the University of Manchester School of Medicine attributed the strong association between vitamin D and cognitive ability to the size of the study

“Previous studies exploring the relationship between vitamin D and cognitive performance in adults have produced inconsistent findings but we observed a significant, independent association between a slower information processing speed and lower levels of vitamin D,”

“The main strengths of our study are that it is based on a large population sample and took into account potential interfering factors, such as depression, season and levels of physical activity.

Vitamin D, often called the sunshine vitamin is produced by the skin when exposed to the sun. It helps the body absorb calcium, important in maintaining strong bones and teeth.

As it is only found in a few foods, namely oily fish, liver, milk and eggs - for most individuals, the sun is the main source of vitamin D. Because of this, older people who are housebound are more at risk from vitamin D deficiency. Breakfast cereals, margarines and other spreads are often fortified with vitamin D.

However, the scientists at Manchester University don't recommend we start sunbathing for hours on end to keep up our vitamin D levels. They suggest 10-15 minutes in the sunlight should be enough.

This article was published on Thu 21 May 2009

Image © ChristianSchwier.de - Fotolia.com

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