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Fighting The Aging Brain With Vitamin B12

Posted by Jane Akre
Tuesday, September 09, 2008 10:43 AM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: B12, Vitamins, Alzheimer's Disease, Dementia, Elderly, Dietary Supplements, Living Well, Aging, Diet

Vitamin B12 might be one clue to slow brain shrinking as we age.



IMAGE SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons/ piece of salmon/ author: Dezidor


Having vitamin B12 at the low end of the “normal” range has been linked to brain atrophy or shrinkage, according to new research.

Brain shrinkage is associated with an impaired brain function and Alzheimer’s disease.

In this study out of the University of Oxford in England, 107 volunteers ages 61 to 87 underwent MRI scans and cognitive and blood tests.

They were all cognitively normal.

After five years, the individuals with lower vitamin B 12 levels at the start of the study, showed the greatest decrease in brain volume, twice that when compared to those in the highest level of B12 group, even when age, sex, and education were factored in.  

Interestingly, none of the participants registered in the “deficient” range, they were just at the low end of a normal range.  It’s estimated two out of five people are deficient in the vitamin.

B12 deficiency can result in symptoms such as depression, delayed development, tingling and numbness, fatigue and constipation.

Right now it’s not clear if adding B12 to the diet would avert brain atrophy.  However adding B12 from meat, fish, milk and fortified cereals, might help maintain healthy nerve cells and red blood cells.

Other foods containing B12 are liver, salmon, trout, and mollusks contain the highest amount – 84 micrograms per three ounce serving, according to the National Institutes of Health.

“We ought to be more aware of our B12 status, especially people who are vulnerable to B12 deficiency (elderly, vegetarians, pregnant and lactating women, infants), and take steps to maintain it by eating a balanced and varied diet,” said study co-author Anna Vogiatzoglou, a registered dietician and doctoral candidate at the University of Oxford said to U.S. News.

According to the authors, vitamin B12 deficiency is a public health problem, especially among the elderly.

A simple blood test can assess the levels of vitamin B12 which might help clinicians determine cognitive problems in the elderly.

Brain atrophy can also result from high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.

A clinical trial is currently underway giving B vitamins to elderly people with memory impairment. A MRI scan will determine their brain functioning at the start and end of the study to determine if B12 helps slow the shrinking of the brain.  Results should be forthcoming next year.

“The rate of shrinkage of the brain as we age may be partly influenced by what we eat,” says Professor David Smith of Oxford University to BBC News.

The surprising results are published in the September 8 issue of Neurology. #

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