Brain health and cognitive function are top concerns for most adults, especially for those of us who have reached the age of 50. When asked, most people fear losing their intellectual capacity much more than death. Memories of friends and family are a large part of what makes life rich and meaningful; conversely, losing those memories is painful.

Since keeping your brain healthy and in good shape should be on your to-do list, note a new study conducted by the University of California, Davis’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center that looked at the relationship between blood levels of vitamin D and changes in memory and cognitive ability over time.

What they found was quite interesting!

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), measured vitamin D blood levels of 318 older people (average age 76) and then followed those people for five years, measuring changes in their mental status.

After five years of following this population, they observed that low vitamin D levels were associated with increased difficulty with semantic memory (remembering general information), visuospatial ability (observing relationships between objects), as well as executive function (global thinking processes).

Dr. Joshua Miller, lead author of the study, suggested that those with low vitamin D status “were declining about two and a half times faster than those who had adequate vitamin D.” The researchers also noted that the average blood levels of vitamin D (25-OHD) were lower in African Americans (17.9 ng/mL) and Hispanics (17.2 ng/mL) when compared to white subjects (21.7 ng/mL).

This study is important public health information because other research has suggested that the number of people who have low vitamin D levels (30 ng/mL or lower) may be as high as 77 percent of the population. Other studies have also shown a link between low vitamin D status and the risk of Alzheimer’s, cognitive decline, and brain atrophy.

We have long known that vitamin D is a critical aspect of bone metabolism and plays a role in immune and cardiovascular health. And now we have yet another study supporting the idea that vitamin D is also good for our brains.

The good news is that getting enough vitamin D is really quite simple. Your first step should be measuring your vitamin D status, which can be done at your health practitioner’s office. While exposure to sunlight can produce some of the body’s vitamin D, you can also consider adding in supplements to achieve an optimal level of vitamin D.