July 19, 2010

Vitamin D linked to Parkinson's disease

A new study on vitamin D levels and Parkinson’s disease risk points to the need for further research on whether vitamin D supplements can protect against the movement disorder, according to an editorial in the July 2010 issue of Archives of Neurology.

Emory neurologist Marian Evatt, author of the editorial, says the study conducted by Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare is the first to show that low vitamin D levels can help predict whether someone will later develop Parkinson’s disease. Over a span of 30 years, people with the lowest levels of vitamin D were three times more likely to develop Parkinson’s, compared to the group with the highest levels.

Previous research had suggested a link between low vitamin D and Parkinson’s, but whether this is a cause-and-effect relationship is unknown. Vitamin D may help protect the population of dopamine-producing neurons that are gradually lost by people with Parkinson’s disease, Evatt writes in her editorial.

Doctors have known for decades that vitamin D — “the sunshine vitamin” — promotes bone health, but evidence is accumulating for additional roles regulating the immune system and the development of the nervous system.

“Researchers don’t yet know what level is optimal for brain health or at what point vitamin D becomes toxic for humans, and this is a topic that deserves close examination,” Evatt says.

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