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Vitamin D and Parkinson’s: Benefits and Uses

Posted on July 08, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D.
Article written by
Anika Brahmbhatt

If you have Parkinson’s disease (PD), you may be curious about the role vitamin D plays in your symptoms and the condition’s progression. “My blood work shows that I am very low on vitamin D. Does this have anything to do with PD?” asked one MyParkinsonsTeam member.

One 2020 study indicated that “a high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency has been noted in PD and also other neurological diseases for at least the past two decades.” But the evidence of causality between vitamin D and Parkinson’s symptoms and progression is still unclear.

In order to make informed decisions about whether you should add more vitamin D to your diet, it’s a good idea to think about a few key considerations.

What Is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a nutrient that your body needs to make your muscles move, help your nerves send signals, and allows your immune system to fight off bacteria and viruses that can make you sick. Vitamin D is also important so bones can absorb the calcium they need to be strong and healthy.

There are two kinds of vitamin D: vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. Vitamin D2 is mostly found in plants, mushrooms, and yeast. Vitamin D3 can be found in oily fish and is also made in the body during sun exposure. Additionally, vitamin D3 is later converted to 25-hydroxy-cholecalciferol, which affects how the transcription of genes related to vitamin D are up- and downregulated.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, foods that are good sources of vitamin D include:

  • Beef liver
  • Fortified cereal
  • Fish (such as salmon, sardines, swordfish, and cod liver oil)
  • Egg yolks
  • Fortified milk and orange juice

Your body breaks vitamin D down into its active form, called 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D — which is also known as calcitriol and can be found as a supplement. This active form of vitamin D can affect the cells involved in the immune system.

Vitamin D Levels in People With Parkinson’s

Vitamin D levels have consistently been found to be lower in people with PD than in the general population. There are several potential reasons for this, and not all of them point toward direct causality. For example, one potential reason why lower levels of vitamin D are found in people with Parkinson’s may be because they engage in fewer outdoor activities and thus have less sun exposure.

However, studies have shown that vitamin D levels have the potential to affect many nonmotor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, possibly including verbal fluency and memory, mood, and olfactory impairment. In addition, one of the most replicated findings is that serum levels of vitamin D may be associated with PD’s motor symptoms.

A vitamin D deficiency may relate to higher levels of nitric oxide, which can damage your neurons. More research is needed to determine conclusively whether low vitamin D levels put you at an increased risk for Parkinson’s disease.

Some people consider taking vitamin D supplements to make up for deficiencies. Talk to your health care team if you’re considering adding vitamin D supplements to your diet, particularly because there is a risk of taking too much. “Sometimes, I just get a little (no — a lot) overwhelmed with vitamins and drugs,” shared one MyParkinsonsTeam member.

The Office of Dietary Supplements warns that too much vitamin D can cause nausea and vomiting, muscle weakness, confusion, pain, dehydration, and kidney stones, among other side effects. Vitamin D can also interact with some medications, so don’t start any supplementation plan before speaking with your physician.

Talk With People Who Understand

On MyParkinsonsTeam, the social network and online support group for people with Parkinson’s and their loved ones, members discuss the chronic nature of the disease. Here, more than 77,000 members from across the world come together to ask questions, offer advice and support, and share stories with others who understand life with Parkinson’s.

Are you working to increase your vitamin D intake? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation on MyParkinsonsTeam.

References

  1. A Review of the Relationship Between Vitamin D and Parkinson Disease Symptoms — Frontiers in Neurology
  2. Vitamin D — National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements
  3. Calcium and Vitamin D: Important at Every Age — NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center
  4. Immunologic Effects of Vitamin D on Human Health and Disease — Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI)
  5. Calcitriol — MedlinePlus
  6. How to Get More Vitamin D From Your Food — Cleveland Clinic
  7. Memory, Mood, and Vitamin D in Persons With Parkinson's Disease — Journal of Parkinson's Disease
  8. Distribution of the Vitamin D Receptor and 1 Alpha-Hydroxylase in Human Brain — Journal of Chemical Neuroanatomy
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D. is a neurology and pediatric specialist and treats disorders of the brain in children. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Anika Brahmbhatt is an undergraduate student at Boston University, where she is pursuing a dual degree in media science and psychology. Learn more about her here.

A MyParkinsonsTeam Member said:

I wonder if the number of cases of PD are lower in the warmer, sunnier states like Colorado, Florida etc?

posted 3 days ago

hug

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