There is a link between the widespread problems with vitamin D deficiency and the growing prevalence of Parkinson’s disease. In a review article that is published in the science journal Nutrients, a group of scientists look at vitamin D’s role in the nervous system and the brain. It is relevant to use supplements that optimize blood levels of vitamin D as part of the prevention and treatment of this disease.
The number of seniors in the world is increasing rapidly, which means the rate of Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders is also on the rise. It is therefore relevant to look closer at natural ways to treat and prevent these disorders. This requires a better understanding of the degenerative processes in the brain, including chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction (the mitochondria are the cellular powerhouses), damaged RNA homeostasis, and accumulation of proteins such as β-amyloid and tau.
It already seems that low levels of vitamin D in the blood are linked to psychological disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, and neurological disorders like dementia and Parkinson’s disease. Scientists therefore believe that it is possible to lower the risk of Parkinson’s disease and delay its progression simply by maintaining optimal levels of vitamin D in the blood. As part of their review article, a group of scientists from different universities in Italy looked closer at vitamin D’s role as a protective factor in Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders. This included looking at blood levels of vitamin D during the progression of the disease, and the use of supplements as part of the treatment.
Vitamin D’s conversion from sunlight and supplements to its active steroid form
The form of vitamin D that we humans synthesize from sun exposure or get from supplements is called cholecalciferol and is an inactive form of vitamin D that must be converted in a two-step process. In the first step, cholecalciferol is converted into 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 (25OHD) in the liver. This is the form of vitamin D that is measured in the blood. Whenever cells need vitamin D, the second step of the conversion is initiated. Here, 25OHD is converted into 125-dihydroxyvitamin D3 in the kidneys, the brain, and various other places. This is the active steroid form of vitamin D and is what binds to the cells’ vitamin D receptors in order to regulate a host of different biochemical processes plus around 10 percent of our genes. Although vitamin D is primarily known for its role in bone health, the vitamin’s importance for brain health has been carefully described over the past decades.
Vitamin D and Parkinson’s disease
Parkinson’s disease is the second-most common neurological disorder and is characterized by uncontrollable movements, such as shaking, stiffness, poor balance, fatigue, and reduced facial expressions. The disease may also lead to depression and loss of cognitive skills. Parkison’s disease is caused by reduced function or death of nerve cells in substantia nigra that is situated deep inside the brain. Once these nerve cells are destroyed, it lowers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that the brain uses to control various movements. There can be different reasons why Parkinson’s disease develops, including genetic factors and environmental impacts such as pesticides, poisoning, alcohol, smoking, and brain damage. The ageing process and lack of nutrients like vitamin D also play a role. Because of vitamin D’s vital role in brain health, this nutrient is able to cross the blood-brain barrier. There are vitamin D receptors (VDR) in many parts of the brain. Via these receptors, vitamin D regulates different genes by means of on-off switches and neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and acetylcholine. Vitamin D also counteracts oxidative stress and inflammation that can cause damage to neurons and various tissues.
Several studies have demonstrated a link between low vitamin D levels in the blood and Parkinson’s disease. It is believed that lack of vitamin D causes the dopamine-producing nerve cells to perish, and this can lead to the development of Parkinson’s disease. Vitamin D’s protective effect on Parkinson’s disease has not been mapped out fully at this point, but scientists have different theories that include brain development, neurons, calcium homeostasis, renin-angiotensin system (RAS), antioxidant effects, and regulation of inflammatory processes.
Vitamin D in relation to the development of Parkinson’s disease
Although vitamin D’s preventative role in connection with Parkinson’s disease seems promising, it still remains unclear whether the nutrient can actually stop the disease from progressing. Still, several studies suggest that lack of vitamin D may speed up the development of the condition, both with regard to the motorial sympoms and the non-motorial symptoms such as depression, insomnia, and cognitive impairment. Also, it has been observed that Parkinson’s patients have a greater risk of falling and sustaining bone fractures when compared with the general population.
Vitamin D supplements for Parkinson’s patients
Supplementation with vitamin D for Parkinson’s patients appears to have a positive effect measured by different parameters. In the new review article, the scientists refer to a controlled study (Suzuki et al.) where participants were given 30 micrograms of vitamin D daily, or matching placebo. The study had a two-year follow up period, and it turned out that the patients in the placebo group had a lower neurological score on the Hoehn and Yar scale and the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPRDS). Also, they had lower quality of life.
Other studies of vitamin D and Parkinson’s disease have failed to produce a positive result. This is most likely because the participants were not vitamin D-deficient to begin with or because the doses that were given were too small or were given for too short a period. Nonetheless, the scientists conclude that vitamin D supplements that can optimize blood levels of the nutrient have the potential to:
- Improve public health, which includes vitamin D’s role in brain health and the development of neurological diseases like Parkinson’s disease
- Slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease and reduce the symptoms
- Lower the risk of fall injuries and bone fractures in patients with Parkinson’s disease.
Vitamin D supplements
Vitamin D is lipid-soluble and is therefore absorbed better in capsules where the nutrient is dissolved in oil. There are supplements on the market that contain 20-100 micrograms of vitamin D in a high-dosed formulation. People have different needs for the nutrient and it is essential in any case to strive for optimal levels of the nutrient in the blood all year around and throughout life.
Blood levels of vitamin D
- It is recommended to have at least 50 nmol/L of vitamin D in the blood
- Many experts and scientists believe that it takes levels of 75-120 nmol/L to obtain optimal disease protection.
- The safe upper level for vitamin D is 160 nmol/L
Click here and read more about nutrients and Parkinson’s disease:
Antonia Pignolo et al. Vitamin D and Parkinson´s Disease. Nutrients 14 March 2022
Lingling lv et al. The relationships of vitamin D, vitamin D receptor gene polymorphisms, and vitamin D supplementation with Parkinson´s disease. Translational Neurodegeneration 2020
Alexander Muacevic and John R Adler: The Role of Vitamin D in Brain Health: A Mini Literature Review. Cureus 2018
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