Evidence of a role for vitamin D (VitD) in cognitive aging is mixed and based primarily on extreme VitD deficiency. We evaluated the association of VitD insufficiency with cognitive function in older, community-dwelling adults living in a temperate climate with year-round sunshine.
A population-based longitudinal study of 1,058 adults (median age 75; 62% women) who had cognitive function assessed and serum levels of 25-hydroxyvitaminD (25OHD) measured in 1997-99 and were followed for up to three additional cognitive function assessments over a 12-year period.
Overall, 14% (n = 145) of participants had VitD insufficiency defined as 25OHD <30 ng/ml. Adjusting for age, sex, education, and season, VitD insufficiency was associated with poorer baseline performance on the Mini-Mental Status Exam (MMSE) (p = 0.013), Trails Making Test B (Trails B) (p = 0.015), Category Fluency (p = 0.006), and Long Term Retrieval (p = 0.019); differences were equivalent to 5 years of age. For those with VitD insufficiency, the odds of mildly impaired performance at baseline were 38% higher for MMSE (p = 0.08), 78% higher for Trails B (p = 0.017), and 2-fold higher for Category Fluency and Long Term Retrieval (both p = 0.001). VitD insufficiency was not related to the rate of cognitive decline on any test or the risk of developing impaired performance during follow-up.
In this population with little VitD deficiency, even moderately low VitD was associated with poorer performance on multiple domains of cognitive function. Low VitD did not predict 12-year cognitive decline. Clinical trials are essential to establish a causal link between VitD and cognitive well-being.