Vitamin B12’s link to dementia

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A deficiency of B12, which may not be detected in a blood test, can result in disorders often mimicking senility, dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease.

“The primary sources of vitamin B12 are meat, dairy, eggs, and fish… A vegan diet will not provide adequate sources of B12.”

 By Sherrill Sellman, ND

 The disability that creates most alarm among the baby boomer generation is loss of memory and brain functions, often described as Alzheimers or dementia. The concern is justified.

Worldwide, an estimated 24 million people are now diagnosed with dementia. It is estimated that this will rise to 81 million by 2040.

We have to ask: are the various forms of dementia an inevitable consequence of aging or could they, in some instances, be symptomatic of an underlying (and overlooked) nutritional deficiency?

Effects of B12 Deficiency

There is growing evidence that a vitamin B12 deficiency, which affects an estimated one-quarter of North Americans, plays a major role in the decline of neurological functions.

B12 deficiency is more commonly found in the elderly and those with predisposing conditions such as Crohn’s disease.

Vitamin B12 (cobalamin), a fragile, water-soluble compound that performs a wide variety of functions in the body, is vital for good health. B12 is essential for normal nervous system function and normal red cell, white cell, and platelet production. A deficiency of B12, which may not be detected in a blood test, can result in neurological disorders often mimicking senility, dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease.

Causes of B12 Deficiency

Diet, age and drugs are the prime culprits behind B12 deficiency. The primary sources of vitamin B12 are meat, dairy, eggs, and fish. Inadequate intake of these foods or impaired absorption directly impacts B12 levels. A vegan diet does not provide adequate sources of B12.

It should also be noted that microwave cooking may inactivate vitamin B12. Researchers found that after just six minutes of microwaving, nearly half of the vitamin B12 in food was destroyed.

How B12Works

Vitamin B12 has the unique ability to provoke the regeneration of nerves without adverse side effects. This is because B12 facilitates methylation, the process that creates and maintains nerves and brain chemicals.

In addition, vitamin B12 is able to lower homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is a toxic byproduct of methionine metabolism that can damage neurons. Importantly, homocysteine interferes with the methylation reactions critical for brain function. By lowering homocysteine levels, neurological functions can be improved.In addition,B12 also protects brain health by helping in the synthesis of the neurotransmitters, serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.

People who do not respond to supplemental vitamin B12 may also be deficient in folate. Since vitamin B12 and folate work synergistically to restore normal homocysteine levels, increasing folate may also be necessary.

Boosting B12

In the past, vitamin B12 was administered by injections. However, oral B12 supplements have been found to be as good as or better than injections. While there are several forms of B12 , methylcobalamin is the most neurologically active form. When taken sublingually (under the tongue), it is immediately assimilated into the brain.

A daily dose of 1000 mcg of B12 is usually sufficient. But if there is a deficiency, 2000 mcg daily for one month is recommended, followed by 1000 mcg daily.

There is little question that many people exhibiting symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are suffering from a vitamin B12 deficiency. For many people, taking a B12supplement could rescue them from the darkness.

Effects of Dementia

While depression is a common symptom of early-stage dementia, the following can also be affected:

  • Language
  • Comprehension
  • Motor skills
  • Short-term memory
  • Reaction time
  • Personality traits
  • Mood or behaviour
  • Reduced production of intrinsic factor, a protein secreted by the stomach to help the body absorb B12;
  • Low levels of hydrochloric acid, necessary for digesting proteins and maintaining intrinsic factor; and
  • Prescription and over-the-counter drugs for stomach ulcers, heartburn, or gastroesophageal reflux.

Who is at Risk of B12 Deficiency?

The elderly are most at risk of B12 deficiencies. There are several reasons for this:

  • Reduced production of intrinsic factor, a protein secreted by the stomach to help the body absorb B12;
  • Low levels of hydrochloric acid, necessary for digesting proteins and maintaining intrinsic factor; and
  • Prescription and over-the-counter drugs for stomach ulcers, heartburn, or gastroesophageal reflux.

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Sherrill Sellman, ND, is author of Hormone Heresay: What Women MUST Know About Their Hormones (Getwell International, 2000) and What Women MUST Know to Protect Their Daughters from Breast Cancer (GetWell International, 2004). 

 

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