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Vitamin D shortage can cause Parkinson's

A shortage of vitamin D can lead to Parkinson's disease and mental decline in old age, new research suggests.

One 30-year study of 3,000 people revealed a three-fold higher risk of developing Parkinson's in those with low levels of vitamin D.

A separate investigation found that low vitamin D intake was associated with a 60pc greater chance of suffering seriously impaired mental faculties later in life.

Both studies, published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, add to growing evidence of the vitamin's importance to health.

Vitamin D is mainly generated by the action of sunlight on the skin. However, as people age their skin becomes less able to produce it.

Research suggests that as well as strengthening bones, the vitamin also protects against cancers, heart disease and diabetes.

For the Parkinson's study, researchers in Finland recruited 3,173 men and women aged 50 to 79 who did not have the disease.

Over a 29-year follow-up period, 50 of the group developed Parkinson's disease.

Those who had the lowest amounts of vitamin D were three times more likely to develop Parkinson's than those with the highest.

The second study, conducted by US, British and Italian scientists, assessed the mental performance of 850 people aged 65 or over living in Italy.

Over a period of up to six years, participants who were severely deficient in vitamin D were 60pc more likely to suffer substantial mental decline than those with healthy levels.