Vitamin D is one of the most critical nutrients to human performance, yet more than a billion people worldwide are deficient.
New research published in the journal Brain Structure and Function is showing that vitamin D levels affect the integrity of a type of scaffolding in the brain known as perineuronal nets.
Perinueronal nets, or PNNs, is not something in the everyday vocabulary, yet they have a vital role in our everyday functioning.
Essentially, they are made up of sugar molecules and proteins and they form a strong, supportive mesh around certain neurons which helps to stabilize the contacts these neurons make with other neurons.
Researchers removed vitamin D from the diets of healthy mice. A control group continued to receive vitamin D.
After 20 weeks, the vitamin D deficient group showed a marked decline in their ability to learn and remember when compared to the control group.
The study went further and investigated the brains of the mice. What they found was a significant reduction in PNNs in the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain that is most crucial to forming memory.
There is a lot of work to do here. Vitamin D deficiency and loss of cognitive function is one thing, but links also exist with schizophrenia (about 70% of schizophrenia patients are vitamin D deficient, as well as showing dysfunction in the hippocampus).
This will be exciting research to follow in the coming years, but the message is clear. We should be monitoring our vitamin D levels and shoring up deficiencies.