With winter in full swing, the importance of vitamin D is coming to light! The number of daylight hours is at an all-year low, so ensuring you’re getting enough of the sunshine vitamin at this time of year through dietary means is vital.

This week’s Nutrition News looks at a number of recently published nutritional studies, including two that highlight the roles vitamin D plays in the body. Read the article in full here.

Low iron and vitamin D levels linked with poor sleep

Nutritional deficiencies, especially in iron and vitamin D, could be the hidden culprits affecting sleep quality. A recent study, reported by Mind Body Green in the article “Low Iron & Vitamin D Levels Are Linked To Sleeping Poorly, New Study Shows”, explored this issue by analysing women’s health data from nearly 10,000 women aged 20 to 49 in the US and revealed that 13% had low iron levels, 6% experienced low iron and haemoglobin levels (anaemia), 8% had vitamin D deficiency, and 30% had insufficient vitamin D levels.

The study looked at these numbers in relation to sleep and found that iron-deficient women faced a 42% higher chance of sleep troubles. It also uncovered that those with anaemia were more than twice as likely to struggle with sleep and vitamin D-deficient women had 26% higher odds of inadequate sleep, and insufficient levels increased the likelihood by 22%.

The most significant sleep issues were seen in women lacking both iron and vitamin D.

These findings align with prior research highlighting how these nutrients offer sleep support. For instance, vitamin D influences melatonin production, essential for regulating sleep patterns. It is also thought that a lack of sleep can worsen vitamin D levels, leading to a vicious cycle of sleep issues.

Iron deficiency is also linked to sleep concerns. Symptoms of deficient, such as dizziness and mood changes, can disrupt sleep patterns.

Improving levels of these nutrients involves dietary changes, incorporating iron-rich foods and vitamin D sources, although, it may be worth consulting your healthcare practitioner if you believe supplements might be necessary. While more research is needed, especially into men’s health considering this study focused only on women’s sleep and nutrition, it stands as robust evidence for the importance of balanced nutrition in sleep quality.

High blood pressure when you’re younger could increase heart health risks

A recent study reported in the article “High Cholesterol, High Blood Pressure Earlier In Life May Raise Your Risk of Heart Disease” has highlighted the profound impact of high blood pressure and high LDL cholesterol on the risk to heart health throughout your life. Conducted using a Mendelian randomisation approach, the research emphasised that these risk factors, particularly before the age of 55, significantly elevate the likelihood of developing coronary heart disease, irrespective of later-life blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

The study illustrated that high blood pressure and elevated LDL cholesterol levels have enduring effects on the future risk of coronary heart disease, underlining the necessity for earlier interventions and continual management for older individuals.

Coronary heart disease, arising from plaque buildup in the heart's arteries, is characterised by insufficient oxygen-rich blood reaching the heart, which can culminate in a heart attack. Risk factors encompass high LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, a family history of coronary artery disease, diabetes, smoking, and specific age groups.

This study underscored the lasting repercussions of these risk factors on heart health, irrespective of subsequent interventions, as explained by Dr. Michael Shapiro, a cardiology professor at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

Utilising genetic variants related to blood pressure and LDL cholesterol, researchers correlated these factors with coronary heart disease risk across a lifespan in more than 450,000 participants from the UK Biobank. The findings indicated a higher likelihood of developing coronary disease in those predisposed to elevated LDL cholesterol and blood pressure before age 55.

The study's conclusions emphasise the importance of early-life management of blood pressure and LDL cholesterol levels, debunking the misconception that these concerns are exclusive to older age. This highlights the significance of lifestyle and dietary modifications for sustained heart health throughout adulthood.

Vitamin D deficiency and depression linked to young-onset dementia

A groundbreaking study reported by the BBC in the article “Young-onset dementia risk increased by Vitamin D deficiency and depression, study says” suggests that vitamin D deficiency, depression, and diabetes, among various other health concerns, heighten the risk of young-onset dementia. With approximately 70,000 individuals estimated to be living with this condition in the UK, characterised by dementia symptoms surfacing before the age of 65, this research challenges the perception that genetics are the sole culprit.

Identifying 15 contributing factors, akin to those linked to late-onset dementia, the study also emphasises elements such as alcohol abuse, stroke, social isolation, and hearing impairment as influential contributors. Notably, individuals with higher formal education demonstrated a lower risk.

Dr. Janice Ranson, one of the study's authors, anticipates that addressing these identified factors could potentially decrease the risk of new cases, marking a significant advancement in intervention strategies.

While memory loss stands as a common dementia symptom, behavioural changes and disorientation in familiar settings also manifest. The study, conducted collaboratively by UK and Dutch scientists, analysed data from over 350,000 individuals under 65 across the UK, marking it as the most comprehensive study of its kind to date.

Professor David Llewellyn, another author, acknowledges the remaining uncertainties but asserts that the study offers insights into potential actions for mitigating this debilitating condition's risk.

Dr. Stevie Hendriks from Maastricht University highlights the severe impact of young-onset dementia in particular over dementia in later life as individuals must try to balance the condition alongside work, family, and a bustling life. Often presumed to have genetic roots, the exact causes for many affected individuals remain elusive, prompting an exploration of other risk factors in this study.

Alzheimer's Research UK, co-funding the study, sees these findings as a pivotal step in bridging gaps in understanding dementia risk. Dr. Leah Mursaleen underscores the transformation in comprehension of dementia risk and the potential for individual and societal risk reduction, marking a significant shift in approach for cognitive health.

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Alison Astill-Smith author Alison is Director and Founder of Metabolics who writes about Metabolics updates, events and natural healthcare. Her experience and passion for natural supplements and healthcare comes from her years of experience as a practising osteopath, having founded Metabolics in her search for high quality, natural products in her own work. Alison has been a qualified and practising Osteopath since 1981 and regularly gives seminars on a range of healthcare subjects to the wider practitioner community helping share her knowledge and experience.