Seniors’ mental health linked to vitamin D levels – Sacramento Bee

Every two weeks, we gather some of the most interesting, intriguing and even oddball studies from health researchers around the world. Here’s the latest:

UCD study: Low vitamin D may raise dementia risk

Seniors with low vitamin D are at a “substantial” increased risk of developing short-term memory loss and diminished brainpower, according to a new UC Davis study that looked at 400 seniors over five years.

“The results were surprisingly strong,” said Dr. John Olichney, a behavioral neurology professor who works with the UC Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Center.

He and a team of UCD researchers found that memory loss and cognitive brain functioning (problem solving, organizing, judgment skills, etc.) among those with insufficient vitamin D declined more than twice as fast as those with normal vitamin D levels, based on annual testing over five years.

He said the faster decline in short-term memory loss and cognitive brain function was akin to that seen in early Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Insufficient amounts of vitamin D, which is typically acquired through sun exposure and eating dairy products, are extremely common in those over age 65, whose bodies don’t efficiently convert UV rays to vitamin D. The use of sunblock to prevent skin cancer and less consumption of dairy products also impact vitamin D levels.

The study was published online last week in JAMA Neurology. The participants, all from Northern California, were ethnically diverse, and most were in their mid-70s. The study noted that high-risk groups, such as African Americans and Hispanics who are less able to absorb vitamin D from sunshine because of skin pigmentation, should be particularly concerned about low vitamin D levels as a risk factor for dementia.

The study’s next step, Olichney said, would be considering randomized clinical trials to test the impact of high- and low-dose vitamin D supplements on brain function.

Olichney recommended seniors get tested for vitamin D levels and discuss with their physician whether vitamin supplements are needed.

Do lung cancer tests encourage smoking?

Lung cancer screenings are intended to detect cancer early and to encourage longtime smokers to quit. But they may be a waste of time, at least when it comes to quitting. In some cases, smokers perceived the screenings as a reason to not quit, according to an initial study published recently in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Although it was a small sample – 37 smokers at U.S. Veterans Affairs centers nationwide who received lung cancer screenings – the results showed the screenings reinforced a won’t-happen-to-me attitude about the risk of developing lung cancer. Those who got cancer-free test results reportedly felt they were “among the lucky ones who will avoid the harms of smoking,” the report said.

“If we want to save lives from smoking, we should take all this money being spent on screening and double down on smoking-cessation efforts,” said Dr. Steven B. Zeliadt, the study’s lead author and a Seattle health economist, in a recent New York Times interview.

‘Fat shaming’ and other weight stigma issues

Being overweight in the United States is no picnic. In addition to the obvious health complications linked to excess pounds, the overweight face well-established emotional issues. Among them: bullying, prejudice and discrimination by employers, peers and the public.

This week, which is annual Weight Stigma Awareness Week, brings a renewed look at weight-based discrimination, sponsored by the Binge Eating Disorder Association, which is hosting online conversations on the topic.

Contrary to stereotypes, shaming the overweight doesn’t work.

“If weight stigma helped people lose weight, there would be no obesity epidemic,” said Dr. Stacey Cahn, a clinical psychology professor at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, in a recent press statement. In a survey of more than 2,000 obese adults, she noted, 79 percent said they handled the stress of weight stigma … by eating.

A UCLA research team recently was awarded nearly $300,000 to conduct a yearlong study on how overweight people respond to public prejudice in their daily lives. Using text messaging with participants, the study will allow researchers to look at psychological stress, comfort eating and levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that can cause more eating and fat storage.

“Weight stigma remains one of the most pervasive and socially acceptable forms of bias and discrimination,” Cahn said. “Society needs to attack the problem of obesity, not the people with obesity.”


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