The cartoon symbol for a great idea is a light bulb snapping on over somebody’s head. The floating bulb shows that an inspirational thought has just popped into someone’s brain.
Well, in fact, there is a type of light that can make your brain work better and perhaps lead to greater inspiration – sunlight. Here’s the scoop. . .
Special Message From Lee Euler, Editor
The miracle mineral that
The connection between the sun and your brain is that your skin uses sunlight to make vitamin D — and vitamin D is priceless for keeping your brain healthy and working better.
Besides that, research now shows vitamin D reduces your risk of memory problems like Alzheimer’s disease.
How to Keep Your Brain at the Top of Its Game
A flurry of studies in the past few years indicates that if you want to avoid the kind of memory implosion people experience with Alzheimer’s disease, then you’d better make sure you get an adequate amount of vitamin D – whether from sunlight, food or supplements.
Examinations of the brain’s structure and function have long suggested that the brain can’t keep going for very long without vitamin D.
The brain is chock full of receptors for vitamin D, consisting of molecular structures designed to grab on to the nutrient and put it to use. In particular, the cells of the hippocampus — the part of the brain responsible for preserving many of our memories — is dense with vitamin D receptors.
At the same time, these brain cells are rich in 1alpha-hydroxylase, an enzyme that converts circulating vitamin D into a form that can enter the cells and be active1
Plus, lab tests have shown that vitamin D helps keep the brain clear of amyloid plaque, the sticky clumps of destructive protein that can accumulate there and cause the neuron disruption linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Vitamin D increases the activity of macrophages, immune cells that consume and eliminate these problematic proteins.2
In addition, studies show that vitamin D can keep your brain larger as you age and prevent it from atrophying 3 — i.e. shrinking. At the same time, D lowers the risk of strokes and circulation problems in brain tissue.4 Brain shrinkage is natural with age, but you want to do everything you can to slow it down – and vitamin D is one of the ways.
Grow New Brain Tissue
Meanwhile, other studies show that vitamin D can help regenerate axons in the brain. Axons are projections from the neurons that transmit impulses in the brain.5 They are bundled together and form important paths for sending signals from one cell to the next. (Researchers believe that vitamin D will someday be used in therapies to repair the axons in damaged spinal columns.6)
And researchers at the University of Exeter in England, in a six-year study of seniors, demonstrated that moderate deficiency in vitamin D ups your risk of Alzheimer’s disease by almost 70 percent. Their analysis also indicated that if you have a severe D deficiency, your risk jumps more than 120 percent, compared to people who have sufficient levels of this nutrient.7
The research looked at the brain health of more than 1,650 people over the age of 65. They found that to protect your brain, your blood test for 25(OH)D – a measure of your vitamin D status – should be at or over 50 nmol/L. (Your health practitioner can give you this simple blood test.)
Now, in the past, I have said that the best way to get vitamin D is to sit in the sun with exposed skin and no sunscreen for about 15 minutes at noon in the summer. I still think that’s true. And when taking a supplement, I go along with many experts who recommend taking at least 1,000 to 5,000 IUs of vitamin D a day.
A blood test is the only way to be sure how much vitamin D you need to take. Some people can take 10,000 IUs per day and still be deficient. That’s how much you probably need to reach blood levels of more than 60 nmol/L, but a doctor we interviewed – someone who has assayed the D levels of hundreds of patients — says she almost NEVER sees D levels that high.
In other words, almost everyone is deficient in vitamin D and could profit from more time in the sun, or higher intake by supplement. What about skin cancer? I say phooey. The risk of getting dangerous melanoma skin cancer from the sun is laughably low compared to the danger of cancer, Alzheimer’s and other medical problems from vitamin D deficiency.
Get your sun, but keep it moderate – a few minutes a day during the summer, more during other times of the year when the sun is less intense.