Over a billion people worldwide suffer from vitamin D deficiency
Memory and learning difficulties are signs of vitamin D deficiency, according to new research.
Vitamin D deficiency is even linked to disorders such as depression and schizophrenia.
Vitamin deficiency affects critical structures in the hippocampus, an important area of the brain in memory and learning.
Dr. Thomas Burne, co-author of the study, said:
Over a billion people worldwide are affected by vitamin D deficiency, and there is a well-established link between vitamin D deficiency and cognitive impairment.
Unfortunately, the exact way in which vitamin D influences brain structure and function is not well understood, so it is difficult to know which deficiency is causing the problems.
For the study, the researchers removed vitamin D from the mice's diet for 20 weeks.
The mice clearly showed learning and memory problems compared to a control group, which was fed sufficient levels of vitamin D.
Researchers have found that vitamin D is important for maintaining the stability of perineural nets in the hippocampus.
Dr. Burne explained:
These nets form a solid and interdependent mesh around certain neurons and, in so doing, they stabilize the contacts that these cells establish with other neurons.
As hippocampal neurons lose their perineural support networks, they have difficulty maintaining connections, which ultimately leads to loss of cognitive function.
The hippocampus is a particularly active part of the brain, which may explain why it is affected early by vitamin D deficiency, said Dr. Burne:
It's like the canary in the coal mine – it might fail first because its high energy requirements make it more susceptible to the depletion of essential nutrients like vitamin D.
Curiously, the right side of the hippocampus was more affected by a vitamin D deficiency than the left side.
Damage to these perineural nets can help explain memory problems that are a symptom of schizophrenia.
Dr. Burne said:
The next step is to test this new hypothesis on the link between vitamin D deficiency, perineural nets and cognition.
We are also particularly pleased to have discovered that these nets could change in adult mice.
I hope that because they are dynamic, we may be able to rebuild them, which could set the stage for new treatments.
The study was published in the journal Brain Structure and Function.
(Al-Amin et al., 2019)