New research from South Australian scientists has shown that vitamin D (also commonly known as the sunshine vitamin) is unlikely to protect individuals from multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease or other brain-related disorders.

The findings, released today in the science journal Nutritional Neuroscience reported that researchers had failed to find solid clinical evidence for vitamin D as a protective neurological agent.

"Our work counters an emerging belief held in some quarters suggesting that higher levels of vitamin D can impact positively on brain health," says lead author Krystal Iacopetta, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Adelaide.

Based on a systematic review of over 70 pre-clinical and clinical studies, Ms. Iacopetta investigated the role of vitamin D across a wide range of neurodegenerative diseases.

"Past studies had found that patients with a neurodegenerative disease tended to have lower levels of vitamin D compared to healthy members of the population," she said.

"This led to the hypothesis that increasing vitamin D levels, either through more UV and sun exposure or by taking vitamin D supplements, could potentially have a positive impact. A widely held community belief is that these supplements could reduce the risk of developing brain-related disorders or limit their progression," said Ms. Iacopetta.

"The results of our in-depth review and analysis of all the scientific literature, however, indicates that this is not the case and that there is no convincing evidence supporting vitamin D as a protective agent for the brain," said Ms. Iacopetta. 

Vitamin D

Ms. Iacopetta believes that the idea of vitamin D as a neuro-related protector has gained traction based on observational studies as opposed to the evaluation of all the clinical evidence.

"Our analysis of methodologies, sample sizes, and effects on treatment and control groups shows that the link between vitamin D and brain disorders is likely to be associative as opposed to a direct causal relationship," she explains. 

Mark Hutchinson, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP) and Professor at the University of Adelaide worked with Ms. Iacopetta on the research and findings.

"This outcome is important and is based on an extremely comprehensive review and analysis of current data and relevant scientific publications," Professor Hutchinson says.

Interestingly, Professor Hutchinson notes that there may be evidence that UV light (sun exposure) could impact the brain beneficially, in ways other than that related to levels of vitamin D.

"Some early studies suggest that UV exposure could have a positive impact on some neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis," he says. "We have presented critical evidence that UV light may impact molecular processes in the brain in a manner that has absolutely nothing to do with vitamin D."