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A recent study in elderly Chinese people found that low levels of vitamin D were associated with an increased risk of subsequent cognitive decline.

The research led by Duke-NUS Medical School and Duke University was published in the Journals of Gerontology and is the first large-scale prospective study to examine the association in Asia.

For the study, researchers measured the baseline vitamin D levels of 1,202 Chinese participants from the Chinese Longitudinal Health Longevity study, aged 60 and older.  Then they performed cognitive tests over the next two years.

The findings concluded that participants who had lower levels of vitamin D at the beginning of the study were about two times more likely to show substantial cognitive decline over the observation period, regardless of gender or age.  Those with the lowest levels of vitamin D at the beginning of the study saw their risk of future cognitive difficulties increase by two to three times.

People usually produce vitamin D in their body after being exposed to sunlight, and it may have an important part in maintaining brain function and cardiovascular health.

The researchers say the study findings should prompt more research into the effects of vitamin D supplements on cognitive decline. They also said it bolsters the idea that vitamin D is protective against neuron damage and loss.

The findings can apply to regions other than China, such as Singapore, where there is a large portion of the older population that is ethnically Chinese, study author professor David Matchar said.

Contributing Editor/Science Writer