Vitamin D Supports Teenage Brains, Study Indicates

Teenage years are a critical period for brain development. Adolescents experience major shifts in hormones, and their brains hit developmental milestones throughout puberty. These changes contribute to a teen’s working memory, mental flexibility, and self-control.

It’s important for teenagers to fortify their brain during this time of growth and development. Vitamin D is one of the key nutrients needed to help support and maintain a teenage brain.*

The Brain and Vitamin D

For children, teens, and adults alike, vitamin D helps protect brain cells and supports the development of new neural pathways. Vitamin D can even act like a hormone to help optimize cognition and executive (brain) function.*

For many teenagers, vitamin D is acquired in the diet and through sun exposure. But for adolescents living in high-latitude regions, like Norway or Alaska (where the sun doesn’t always shine), this daily nutrient requirement is often not met. And teens tend to make poor food choices that keep them from getting their vitamin D.

A European study conducted in 2016 tested several hypotheses on the relationship between adolescent’s vitamin D levels and executive function. The link between vitamin D levels and mental health (such as sense of well-being, happiness, and satisfaction) was also researched.*

The results supported researchers’ predictions—vitamin D supports executive function and mental health in teenagers. Teens optimized their performance on problem-solving and executive function tests when they supplemented with vitamin D. Their mental health was supported with higher levels of vitamin D, too.*

Conversely, the teens in the study who did not supplement with vitamin D (or who were vitamin D deficient) didn’t experience the same brain-supporting benefits.*

That’s why it’s so important that teens meet their vitamin D needs. The teenage years are booming with brain development. Maintaining healthy vitamin D levels is just one way teens can be proactive and support their executive function and mental health.*

Get to Know the Study

This study shows that adequate levels of vitamin D can be an effective way for teenagers to support their growing brains. Supplementing this essential vitamin may be the most practical way to optimize the daily intake of vitamin D for teens—particularly those living at high latitudes. And although this study was conducted in Norway, the results can be extrapolated and applied to adolescents all over the world.

Here are the details of the study and research that links vitamin D and teenage executive function:

This experiment examined the relationship between vitamin D supplementation and performance on two executive function tests. To account for the effects on mental health, a survey was given to all participants.

The study subjects were 52 Norwegian teenagers who participated in the experiment after school. All subjects received a tablet to take daily during the study, but only half the tablets contained a vitamin D supplement.

A blood draw and three online pre-tests helped researchers establish a baseline for vitamin D levels and brain performance. The first two tests were called the Tower of London, and the Tower of Hanoi, respectively. These tests observed the teenager’s ability to plan and “look ahead” by predicting how many steps would be required to solve a problem.

executive function

The final pre-test was a self-report of the adolescent’s mental health. There is a well-established link between mental health and vitamin D. Researchers wanted to confirm this link in their study.

Performance on each of the two executive function test and self-report of mental health were recorded for each subject at the beginning of the study, and 4-5 months later. With half of the participants supplementing with vitamin D tablets on a daily basis, the researchers had three predictions to test:

  1. Vitamin D supplementation would be beneficial on both executive function tests*
  2. Vitamin D supplementation during winter would improve self-perceived mental health*
  3. Vitamin D supplementation would increase overall levels of vitamin D in adolescents*

The Case for Vitamin D

In the years since this study was published, more research has established a similar relationship between the brain and vitamin D. Teens aren’t the only age group that could benefit from vitamin D. Young children especially need to meet their daily vitamin D requirements to support the development of fine motor skills, and establish a foundation of mental well-being.*

See all the ways vitamin D helps optimizes your brain health. Check out these resources and read the research for yourself.*