It’s no secret that vitamin D is important for everything from immunity to bone health, but few people realize it’s also beneficial for brain health. If you needed another reason to prioritize your vitamin D intake, consider the following three ways the sunshine vitamin improves cognitive function and mood:
- Helps to keep our nervous system healthy
Our nervous systems have a variety of receptors for various hormones, including vitamin D receptors, which means there’s a reason those D receptors are in our brain and central nervous system in general. As it turns out, this essential fat-soluble micronutrient powerhouse plays an important role in supporting nervous system function and brain health.
In fact, studies have shown that vitamin D has neuroprotective properties due to its influence on the production and release of neurotrophins (key proteins required for both neuron development and survival). Furthermore, vitamin D protects nervous tissues from oxidative stress and maintains balanced calcium levels in our blood (and cells, including the nervous system). Calcium, it turns out, is a major signaling compound inside cells that ensures neurons fire properly, which has far-reaching implications for our entire body.
- Supports to maintain cognitive function as we age
As we age, processes such as oxidative stress and ageing organs and systems can manifest as less acute and ripe cognitive function, but vitamin D, according to assistant professor of neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine Nicole Avena, Ph.D., helps buffer against these processes.
A clear link was identified between vitamin D levels (i.e., how healthy your vitamin D status is) and age-related cognitive function in a 2019 Journal of Aging Research meta-analysis of vitamin D’s effects. The researchers discovered that inadequate and deficient vitamin D levels are associated with less optimal global cognitive health parameters, whereas adequate vitamin D levels are associated with a protective decrease in key brain biomarkers.
Avena previously told mbg that vitamin D receptors can be found in the area of the brain that forms new memories, “which may be compelling evidence that vitamin D is related to the proper creation of new memories,” adding to the list of ways vitamin D benefits the ageing population.
- Promotes emotional well-being and mood support
Not to mention the link between vitamin D and mood. Vitamin D not only helps regulate melatonin and serotonin (two hormones involved in mood), but it also affects our gut health by promoting beneficial bacteria and maintaining the integrity of the gut lining.