Vitamin B12 Keeps Your Brain Young

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September 23, 2008 | 66,476 views

Older individuals with low levels of vitamin B12 are at increased risk of having brain atrophy or shrinkage. Brain atrophy is associated with Alzheimer's disease and impaired cognitive function.

Vitamin B12 deficiency is a public health problem, especially among older people.

In a study involving more than 100 volunteers aged 61 to 87, all participants underwent annual clinical exams, MRI scans and cognitive tests, and had blood samples taken. Individuals with lower vitamin B12 levels at the start of the study had a greater decrease in brain volume. Those with the lowest B12 levels had a sixfold greater rate of brain volume loss compared with those who had the highest levels.

However, none of the participants were actually deficient in vitamin B12 -- they just had low levels within a normal range.

Other risk factors for brain atrophy include high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol. The first thing that jumped out at me about this study wasn’t only the benefits of vitamin B12, but the risk that’s there if your levels are low. Not deficient, necessarily, just within the low range of normal

"Our results suggest that rather than maintaining one's B12 at a level that is just above the cut off for deficiency, it might be prudent to aim to keep it higher up than normal range,” the study’s lead researcher said.

This is really important to hear, as most people would assume that if their levels are within the normal range, they’re fine. In reality, you cannot always count on the “normal” reference ranges that come with your blood tests. Vitamin D is another example of a test that lists “normal” ranges that are not nearly adequate to keep you healthy

This really reminds me in many ways of the story of vitamin D. For many decades the “experts” believed that all you needed was 400 units per day. Now we know that you need about ten times that much or the equivalent amount of sun to produce that in your skin.

To really know if your nutrient levels are where they should be to keep you optimally healthy, you need to do some major research of your own (seeking out scientific studies like this one), or you need to seek the guidance of a health care practitioner who thinks outside of the box -- and understands that there is a major difference between “average” and “optimal.”

Getting back to vitamin B12, though, there are many important reasons to make sure you’re getting enough in your diet.

Why is Vitamin B12 so Important?

It’s been estimated that 40 percent of the U.S. population is deficient in vitamin B12, a serious public health problem when you consider how important this vitamin is for your health. Vitamin B12:

• Is needed for proper digestion, food absorption, carbohydrate and fat metabolism.
• Helps folic acid regulate the formation of red blood cells, and helps your body use iron.
• Keep your nervous system healthy by assisting the nerves of your body to function and communicate in an optimal manner.
• Helps in cell formation and cellular longevity.
• Helps support female reproductive health.

• Promote normal nerve growth and development by maintaining the fatty sheaths. These fatty sheaths play a vital role as they cover and protect your nerve endings.
• Is critical to your circulation and adrenal hormone production
• Helps boost your immunity.
• Supports a healthy mood and feelings of well-being, and provides excellent support for your memory, mental clarity, and concentration.
• Helps to boost your energy levels.

Who is at Risk of Vitamin B12 Deficiency?

The group most at risk is those who do not eat meat or animal products. Vitamin B12 deficiency is VERY common, almost universal, in strict vegetarians and vegans, as vitamin B12 is NOT readily available, if at all, in plants.

Vitamin B12 is found almost exclusively in animal tissues, including foods like beef and beef liver, lamb, snapper, venison, salmon, shrimp, scallops, poultry and eggs. And, the few plant foods that are sources of B12 are actually B12 analogs. Simply put, an analog is a substance that blocks the uptake of true B12. The result being, your body’s need for the nutrient actually increases.

You may also be at risk of B12 deficiency if you have stomach problems. This is because B12 needs the help of a protein in order to be absorbed. That protein is called intrinsic factor, and if your stomach is irritated or inflamed, it may stop producing intrinsic factor, making it nearly impossible for your body to absorb B12.

Other factors also influence your body’s B12 levels:

• Age: People over 50 tend to have a limited ability to absorb B12.

• Drinking coffee: A study in Clinical Chemistry found that people who drank four or more cups of coffee a day had a 15 percent reduction in multiple B vitamins compared to those who drank no coffee.

Taking medications: Many prescription drugs diminish your body’s levels of B12, including antibiotics, anticancer medications, anticonvulsants, anti-gout medications, antihypertensives, antiParkinson's medications, antipsychotics, antituberculosis medications, birth control pills, cholesterol-lowering drugs, and potassium replacements.

Those who have undergone weight-loss surgery, which can impair your body’s ability to absorb B12 and other vitamins.

• Those exposed to laughing gas anesthesia or nitrous oxide.

If you are concerned about getting enough vitamin B12, it is important to know that most oral vitamin B12 supplements do not work well at all. Vitamin B12 is the largest vitamin known and it is not easily absorbed.

Ideally, you should make sure you’re getting plenty of vitamin B12 by eating animal foods that are right for your nutritional type, and follow the advice in Take Control of Your Health to overcome any stomach issues that may be inhibiting your absorption.

If you do choose to supplement, studies show that sublingual (under-the-tongue) forms of vitamin B12 are better absorbed by your bloodstream than tablet or inhaled (through your nose) versions.

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