Low vitamin B12 levels in elders cause brain shrinkage and possible dementia

Wednesday, September 28, 2011 by: S. L. Baker, features writer
Tags: vitamin B12, deficiency, health news

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(NaturalNews) When elders have cognitive problems, like forgetting things, and when imaging tests show their brains are actually shrinking, the diagnosis is often a hopeless one -- some form of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease. But what if the problem in a lot of these people is simply a lack of a nutrient?

That may well be the case. According to researchers at Rush University Medical Center, older people with low blood levels of vitamin B12 markers appear to be more likely to have lower brain volumes and problems with thinking skills when compared to other people the same age who aren't B12 deficient.

Their new study, just published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, involved 121 elders living in the south side of Chicago who are a part of the Chicago Health and Aging Project (CHAP), a large, ongoing prospective study. CHAP is comprised of a biracial group of 10,000 subjects over the age of 65. Research subjects for the Rush University research included 121 participants from CHAP who had blood drawn to measure levels of vitamin B12 and B12-related markers that can indicate a B12 deficiency. The same people were also given tests to measure their memory and other thinking skills.

The B-12 deficiency link to brain changes

After approximately four-and-a-half years, participants brains were scanned with MRIs to measure total brain volume and to check for other signs of brain damage. The results showed that the elders who had high levels of four to five markers for vitamin B12 deficiency also had the lowest scores on the cognitive tests. They had smaller brain volumes, too, indicating that their brains had suffered actual shrinkage.

Christine C. Tangney, PhD, associate professor in the department of clinical nutrition at Rush University Medical Center, and lead author of the study, explained in a media statement that low vitamin B12 can be difficult to detect in older people when looking only at blood levels of the vitamin. That's why the research team relied on other markers for B12 deficiency, including homocysteine.

The scores on the cognitive tests the reseach subjects took ranged from -2.18 to 1.42, with an average of 0.23. For each increase of one micromole per liter of homocysteine (the more homocysteine, the less B12 in the body),the cognitive scores decreased by 0.03 standardized units or points. In the press statement, the researchers pointed out these findings back up another British trial that documented a link between B vitamin supplementation and cognitive skills.

"Our findings lend support for the contention that poor vitamin B12 status is a potential risk factor for brain atrophy and may contribute to cognitive impairment," Dr. Tangney stated.

Vitamin B12 is found in many foods, including fish and shellfish, poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products and is available as a supplement in a variety of forms including sublingual tablets which may help with absorption.

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