"B" May be for Brain: New Research On Vitamin B's Impact on Alzheimer's

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  •       “B”-eautiful! That’s my response to a recent study which found that daily doses of vitamin B can lower the rate of brain shrinkage by one half in elderly people who have mild cognitive impairment  (MCI).  And for those who don’t know what MCI is, listen up. Approximately one in six people who are 70 and older has MCI. They will display problems with memory, language and other mental functions, but still are able to maintain their daily routines. However, approximately 50% of people who have MCI will develop Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia within five years of their diagnosis of MCI.

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         Admittedly, this study by a research team from the Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing (Optima) is a small one. Researched involved 168 volunteers who had mild memory problems, splitting them into two groups. Half of the participants took a high-dose vitamin B tablet for two years. The remainder of the group took a placebo.
            MRI scans were used to measure the rate of brain shrinkage over the two-year period of the study. The researchers found that the brains of people who took the pill that combined folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 shrank less than the brains of people who took the placebo. Folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 can control blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine, which is important because high levels of this amino acid are associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. Researchers found that study participants who had the highest levels of homocysteine benefitted the most from taking the high-dose vitamin B tablet; their brains’ atrophy rates were half of the participants who took the placebo.
           As someone who watched her mother go from showing memory loss in 2002 to being formally diagnosed with MCI in 2004 to being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2005, I find this information interesting. And as someone who has a familial history of dementia, I definitely want to watch for further studies that replicate the Optima study on a larger population.
        However, despite the Optima findings, I’m not going to run out and purchase high-dose vitamin B based on this information (and wouldn’t do so unless I received a recommendation by my doctor). That’s because I’d be concerned about the side effects that could happen by self-medicating with a high dosage. For example, the National Institute of Health (NIH) warns that vitamin B12 could interact with certain medications. In addition, some medications actually can adversely affect vitamin B12 levels.  The NIH also warns that too much vitamin B6 can damage nerves that go to the arms and legs. Furthermore, a story about the Optima study by the British Broadcast Company warned, “Taking too much folic acid – over 1 mg a day – can mask signs of vitamin B12 deficiency. An early symptom of B12 deficiency is anaemia, but taking large amounts of folic acid treats the anaemia without treating the B12 deficiency.”

  •     So how can one take the information from the Optima study and be proactive in our choices?  I believe that at this point, the best bet is to make sure that you are eat a balanced diet. For instance, the NIH reports that vitamin B12 is naturally found in fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk and milk products. However, vitamin B12  is not generally present in plant foods. Fortified breakfast cereals and nutritional yeast products contain B12, but be sure to read product labels. Vitamin B6 also is found in fortified cereals, as well as in beans, meat, poultry, fish, and some fruits and vegetables. Folate is available in leafy green vegetables, fruits, dried beans and peas. In addition, folic acid (which is the synthetic form of folate) is added to enriched breads, cereals, flours, corn meals, pastas, and other grain products.

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        Here’s to eating for your both your mental health and your physical health!

Published On: September 21, 2010