Vitamins play an essential role in everyone’s everyday lives. They are critical for each of us to develop and function. You can get vitamins from food and supplements, as well as from the sun, as with vitamin D.
When any one of us is deficient in vitamins, our normal functioning can be disrupted and the side effects can be dramatic. There is even evidence to suggest that some vitamin deficiencies can increase your risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
While many vitamins are good for your health, here we discuss the two that have been shown most strongly to be connected to Parkinson’s: vitamin D and vitamin B12.
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that you get from the foods you eat, such as milk. When the sun shines on your skin, it stimulates the production of vitamin D within your body.
Vitamin D is essential for:
Vitamin D deficiencies are frequently linked to rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. Both of these conditions are related to the softening of bones. However, vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to Parkinson’s disease. One 29-year-long study of more than 3,000 Finnish men and women (ages 50 to 79) showed just such a connection. At the start of the study, no participants had Parkinson’s. But by the study’s end in 2007, participants with higher vitamin D concentrations in their blood serum were less likely to have developed Parkinson’s disease.
Scientists have thought that the long-term loss of dopamine-producing neurons in a particular area of our brains (the substantia nigra) may lead to Parkinson’s. That area is rich in vitamin D receptors (special proteins that only vitamin D will activate), which are located on the very neurons that produce dopamine. When your body doesn’t produce enough dopamine, your motor skills are affected. In people with Parkinson’s disease, that can show up as tremors, general incoordination, and more.
Another factor that might connect your level of vitamin D with your risk for developing Parkinson’s disease is the sun. That’s because your level of sun exposure is directly related to your body’s production of vitamin D. Scientists have made the correlation with Parkinson’s by showing how prevalent the disease is in populations based on their distance from the equator — where the Earth gets the most intense and direct exposure to the sun.
More research is needed to establish if low vitamin D levels actually cause Parkinson’s disease. But there is a clear correlation between vitamin D and Parkinson’s risk that deserves further exploration.
Vitamin B12 is a critical nutrient you get mostly from foods such as fish, meat, and eggs. It is important for healthy red blood cell formation and in the creation of new genetic materials. It also plays an important role in your nervous system — it is critical for how your brain and spinal cord develop and function. Vitamin B12 also plays a role in the creation of the fatty layer (myelin) on brain cells, a layer that, when healthy, increases how quickly your impulses flow through your nerves.
In one report that looked at the findings of 10 other studies, vitamin B12 levels in people with Parkinson’s were noted to be lower than the levels in people who didn’t have the disease. Many researchers now believe that targeting vitamin B12 may be a potential therapeutic option for Parkinson’s.
While vitamin D may be linked (via dopamine) to motor skill-related symptoms in people with Parkinson’s, vitamin B12 could have its own impact on the disease. According to some researchers, deficiencies in vitamin B12 may be related to both motor and nonmotor symptoms in people with Parkinson’s. That’s because acetylcholine, which depends on vitamin B12 to work, affects how your cells contract, and that contraction plays a role in both your cognitive and physical processes. If you are deficient in vitamin B12, therefore, you could be deficient in acetylcholine, too.
There are still more connections between vitamin B12 and Parkinson’s disease. One is via a particular mutated gene that’s known to cause the majority of inherited (and some sporadic) forms of Parkinson’s. Called leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2), it, too, is regulated by vitamin B12. In one important study, scientists reported that the relationship between vitamin B12 and the gene can be used to develop new LRRK2-based Parkinon’s drugs.
Although more research is still needed to determine if bulking up on vitamins D and B12 can help prevent or treat Parkinson’s disease, there are several ways you can make sure you are consuming these essential nutrients. The main ways to get them are through food and supplements.
Most of our essential nutrients — vitamins D and B12 included — can be obtained from the foods we eat.
Some foods — like some cereals — are fortified with vitamin D to increase their nutritional value. You can also get vitamin D by consuming:
Vitamin B12 is an important part of a healthy diet and may also help with Parkinson’s. Foods can also be fortified with vitamin B12. Foods naturally rich in vitamin B12 include:
Over-the-counter supplements are another option for getting more nutrients into your daily routine, and that includes people with Parkinson’s disease. Two caveats: Some supplements can interfere with your medications. So before you take any supplement, consult your heath care team. Secondly, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not strictly regulate supplements, so know that the quality of your vitamins is not guaranteed.
On MyParkinsonsTeam, the social network for people with Parkinson’s disease and their loved ones, more than 90,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with Parkinson’s disease.
Do you have a vitamin deficiency and Parkinson’s disease? Have your doctors suggested you take vitamins D and B12? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.