Doctor Suggests Caution When Reading Research on B-12 Impact on Alzheimer's Disease

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Recently, the media has trumpeted a new study that reported taking more vitamin B-12 can help stop and possibly reverse the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. However, some doctors are warning that the public may be misled by the reporting of this research to think they should up their intake of this vitamin.

    In a blog for Scott and White Healthcare, Jessica McClure wrote, “The number of patients with B-12-induced dementia is only a fraction of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients and raising depleted vitamin levels only improves the state of the person’s health, it does not reverse dementia or stop the inevitable mental deterioration.”

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    The study by Finnish researchers found that people who consume foods rich in vitamin B-12 may be at lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, according to CNN's website in October. The study involved 271 individuals, ages 65 to 79, who showed no evidence of dementia when the study started. The researchers checked levels of a blood marker of vitamin B-12 as well as levels of the amino acid homocysteine, which has been linked to increased risk of Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and stroke. The CNN report noted, “B vitamins, including B-12 and folate, have been shown to help lower homocysteine levels, so high levels of the amino acid suggest low levels of B-12.” At the end of a seven-year period, 17 study participants were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The researchers found that the people who had the highest levels of homocysteine at the beginning of the study also had the highest risk of developing the dementia. Researchers also determined that each unit increase in the marker of vitamin B-12 reduced the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by two percent.

    In the blog, Scott and White Alzheimer’s Dementia Director Arden Aylor said that the population of the study was very small and, therefore, cannot be generalized to the entire population. At this point, Dr. Aylor said that diets or supplements at this point don’t make a difference. “Patients that do well are those that live an independent lifestyle and have a social life,” he said. “The people that are sort of the couch potato-type, that don’t have a lot of social interaction, generally don’t do as well.”

    I, for one, am not planning on adding high-dose vitamin B to my diet, especially since I didn’t receive a recommendation to do so from my doctor at my last appointment two weeks ago. One of the reasons that I won’t make this addition of my own volition is that vitamin B-12 can interact with certain medications, according to the National Institute of Health.

    If you’re thinking about actions that you do want to take to ensure that you are getting enough vitamin B, I’d suggest looking closely at your diet. For instance, B-12 is found naturally in fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk and milk products. You also can find B-12 in fortified breakfast cereals and nutritional yeast products containing the vitamin (but be sure to check the product labels). B6 can be found in fortified cereals, beans, meat, poultry, fish, and some fruits and vegetables. By adding some of these foods to your regular diet, you can keep your B-12 levels high. The Scott and White blog also suggests getting your B-12 levels checked during your annual physical.

Published On: November 30, 2010