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Could a Daily Dose of Sunshine Prevent Neurological Diseases?
By Jennifer Palmer, Naturopathic Doctor (ND) & NEEDS Education Director

Parkinson's disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects predominately dopamine-producing "dopaminergic" neurons in a specific area of the brain. It causes symptoms that progress slowly over years, including rigid limbs, gait and balance problems, and a type of tremor in the hands. Like most of the neurological diseases, it continually progresses and there is no solid cure.

A recent study has found a link between regular sun exposure and having a lower risk of developing PD as an older adult. Sun exposure increases the body's vitamin D production and this may play a significant role in PD.

This study was conducted in France in order to examine the association of ultraviolet B (UV-B) light exposure from the sun, to the risk of developing PD later in life. The researchers found that in adults under 70-years-old, higher exposure to UV-B light is associated with a lower risk of developing PD. People under 50-years-old with consistently high UV-B exposure had the most significant reduction in their risk of developing PD as they grew older. In older age groups, the risk reduction was less significant, but still existed.

On the flip side, people who had the lowest exposure to UV-B light under 70-years-old had the greatest risk of developing PD. However, for people older than 70, low UV-B light exposure was a less significant risk factor for developing PD and for those over 80, there was very little correlation between sunshine and PD.

There's a good reason why sunlight is related to neurological disorders, such as Parkinson's disease and many others. The key reason is that sunshine enhances the body's natural ability to create vitamin D. When skin is exposed to UV-B light from the sun, it converts a type of cholesterol (7-dehydrocholesterol) present in the skin into a vitamin D precursor. Then, this precursor is transferred to the liver and kidneys and is ultimately converted to active vitamin D. The body can produce adequate amounts of vitamin D through this process as long as there is sufficient sun exposure, but as we age, the process becomes less effective for many people. This might explain why UV-B exposure is less protective against PD in older adults.

The good news is that we can take vitamin D3 in supplement form to make up for the body's compromised production and help prevent neurological disorders. Vitamin D plays an important role in maintaining neurological function and protecting the nervous system. When you have a deficiency, it increases a person's risk of developing neurological diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, dementia, and Alzheimer's disease.

The Vitamin D Council website (www. vitamindcouncil.org) lists more than 60 studies that explore the relationship between vitamin D levels and neurodegeneration. Vitamin D works on specific cells in the immune system to reduce inflammation—a condition that can be damaging to nerves and negatively influences brain function. It may also help reduce autoimmune reactions by balancing the immune system. Vitamin D helps deliver calcium into bones and reduces the risk of excess calcium being deposited into brain tissue. The nervous system also has vitamin D receptors, so the nutrient can influence neurotransmitter synthesis and nerve growth.

If you live in a location where it is difficult to get adequate sun exposure, such as northern latitudes, or if you are concerned about developing skin cancer, you can take vitamin D3 as a supplement. Your physician can test your vitamin D levels and if you find they are very low, you can take up to 10,000 IU vitamin D daily until your levels are restored.

For general supplementation, take 1,000-2,000 IU daily. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient, which is best absorbed when taken with food that has a little fat in it. And don't forget that Vitamin D has cofactors that enhance absorption, including magnesium, zinc, and boron. Vitamin K2 supports vitamin D by shuttling calcium into the bones instead of blood vessels. This helps prevent calcium deposits in vessels and reduces the risk of developing atherosclerosis. Vitamin A and vitamin D share receptors, so it is important to get adequate amounts of both to prevent deficiency. Balance is always key when it comes to health, so be sure to take all the cofactors when taking high doses of vitamin D!

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

References:
Kravietz, A. et al. Association of UV radiation with Parkinson disease incidence: A nationwide French ecologic study. Environmental Research, 2017.

Przybelski RJ1, Binkley NC. Arch Biochem Biophys. (2007) Apr 15; 460 (2):202-5. Is vitamin D important for preserving cognition? A positive correlation of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentration with cognitive function.


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