New research has revealed that a common vitamin deficiency is responsible for causing the brain to actually shrink.
Loss of brain size has been linked to decreased brain function, energy and cognitive decline (1).
Researchers have found that when three simple vitamins are combined, significant support for heart health, brain function and longevity (2), as well as support for healthy and stable mood (3), is observed.
Let’s make sure you don’t wake up one day with a shrunken brain! Read on to find out how easy it is to avert this real danger.
Protect Your Brain with B12
A recent study revealed that vitamin B12 may protect against the actual “shrinkage” of the brain as we age (1). The study measured 107 people from ages 61-87 for five years with brain scans and MRI’s.
The study found that people who had higher vitamin B12 levels were less likely to experience brain shrinkage compared with those who had lower levels of the vitamin in their blood. None of the people in the study had vitamin B12 deficiency (4). You do not have to be deficient in B12 to see brain shrinkage. Low B12 levels can put you at risk as well.
Three Is Better Than One
When it comes to B vitamins, B12 plays the leading role while B6 and folic acid have the supporting roles. Tufts University reported that at least 40% of the population is B12 deficient. Vegetarians, the elderly, and those on medications are at a much higher risk.
In a three-year Swedish study of 370 healthy elderly adults who were at least 75 years of age, those with even slightly low levels of vitamin B12 and folate had twice the risk of cognitive and memory concerns as did those with normal levels of these vitamins (5).
Check out these amazing studies:
- Replacement of B vitamins in deficient individuals often quickly improves short term memory and language skills. Elderly subjects who are low in folic acid show impairment in both word recall and object recall, suggesting a vital role for folic acid in memory function in later life (6).
- Memory issues in the elderly related to vitamin B12 deficiency can effectively be supported by vitamin B12 injections or supplements (7).
- High doses of vitamin B6 and folate reduce blood levels of homocysteine, a toxic buildup product linked to heart and cognitive concerns (8).
- In elderly people with memory and cognitive concerns with even mild deficiencies of vitamin B12 or folate, supplementation can improve cognition (9), especially in those with elevated blood homocysteine levels (10).
- In a study of 76 elderly males, vitamin B6 was better than placebo in improving long-term information storage and retrieval (11).
Why is B12 Such a Hassle To Digest?
The problem is that B12 is a very large and difficult vitamin to digest. It requires an especially strong amount of stomach acid to release it from the protein food source. This stomach acid is too weak to be effective in most people and is also needed to make another protein called the Intrinsic Factor, which carriers the B12 into the blood. For the B12 to be absorbed into the blood, the villi of the small intestine must be healthy—which is rarely the case.
The B12 travels all the way through the small intestine and is absorbed just before it enters the large intestine. Along the way, the B12 seems to engage in many biochemical processes that take place in the small intestine. While this is not yet fully understood, we do know that 95% of the serotonin in the body is manufactured and stored in the intestines (12) and that B12 is a precursor for these reactions. This explains the vital role B12 plays in supporting mood and boosting energy.
In fact, in one study, moods were elevated when the combination of B12, B6 and folic acid were supplemented (13).
Dietary Vitamin B12
To recap, B12 is a challenging vitamin to assimilate and requires a very strong digestive system. If you do not tolerate wheat or dairy, it’s a good sign that you may be at risk of a B12 deficiency and possible brain shrinkage.
B12 is found mostly in protein from meat, dairy and eggs. Vegetarians are at a greater risk because they tend to eat proteins that have much less B12. Fermented foods like tempeh, miso and sauerkraut are usually sources of B12 but are not reliable. Seaweeds, Brewer’s Yeast, spirulina and chlorella are also good sources but often are not ingested in sufficient amounts. Vegetarians must be cautious and should prevent this risk with sublingual supplementation that takes the B12 directly to the bloodstream and bypasses the digestive system, which may not be strong enough to absorb the amount of B12 needed to protect the brain.
B12 Keeps Your Heart Healthy
The most active form of B12—methylcobalamin—is essential for reducing homocysteine into methionine (a naturally occurring amino acid) through a process called methylation. High levels of homocysteine are a well-known risk factor for heart concerns (14). B12, folic acid and B6 are required for this conversion, and they work in concert to lower homocysteine, support healthy arterial circulation and fight mood concerns (15, 16).
Please Note: It is best if B12, B6 and folic acid are combined in a sublingual form which makes them synergistically active.
1,4. Vogiatzoglou A, Refsum H, Johnston C, et al. Vitamin B12 status and rate of brain volume loss in community-dwelling elderly. Neurology. 2008 Sept 9;71(11):826-32.
2. Spence JD, Bang H, Chambless LE, Stampfer MJ. Vitamin Intervention For Stroke Prevention trial: an efficacy analysis. Stroke. 2005 Nov;36(11):2404-9.
3. . Morris MC, Evans DA, Bienias JL, et al. Dietary niacin and the risk of incident Alzheimer’s disease and of cognitive decline. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2004 Aug;75(8):1093-9
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6. Hassing L, Wahlin A, Winblad B, Backman L. Further evidence on the effects of vitamin B12 and folate levels on episodic memory functioning: a population-based study of healthy very old adults. Biol Psychiatry. 1999 Jun 1;45(11):1472-80.
7. Carmel R. Subtle cobalamin deficiency. Ann Intern Med. 1996 Feb 1;124(3):338-40
8. Malouf M, Grimley EJ, Areosa SA. Folic acid with or without vitamin B12 for cognition and dementia. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2003;(4):CD004514.
9. Calvaresi E, Bryan J. B vitamins, cognition, and aging: a review. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2001 Nov;56(6):327-39.
10. Nilsson K, Gustafson L, Hultberg B. Improvement of cognitive functions after cobalamin/folate supplementation in elderly patients with dementia and elevated plasma homocysteine. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2001 Jun;16(6):609-14.
11. Deijen JB, van der Beek EJ, Orlebeke JF, van den BH. Vitamin B-6 supplementation in elderly men: effects on mood, memory, performance and mental effort. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 1992;109(4):489-96.
12. Gershon MD. 5-HT (Serotonin) physiology and related drugs. Curr Opin Gastroenterol 2000 16: 113-20.DO
13. Morris MS. Folate, homocysteine, and neurological function. Nutr Clin Care. 2002 May;5(3):124-32.
14. Balch, Prescription For Nutritional Healing. 4th Edition. Avery, 2006:p.20-21
15. Homocysteine Studies Collaboration. Homocysteine and risk of ischemic heart disease and stroke: a meta-analysis. JAMA. 2002 Oct 23;288(16):2015-22
16. Bottiglieri T, Laundy M, Crellin R, Toone BK, Carney MW, Reynolds EH. Homocysteine, folate methylation, and monoamine metabolism in depression. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2000 Aug;69(2):228-32
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Ed: Bryonie Wise