New research at Rush University Medical Center shows a relationship between low levels of vitamin B12 to lower scores on cognitive ability tests and even to smaller brain volume.

Researchers examined four different functional markers for vitamin B12 concentrations in 121 seniors.  The subjects with insufficient levels of vitamin B12 were at greater risk of poor cognitive function on tests measuring performance on perceptual organization and speed, episodic memory and semantic memory.

Low vitamin B12 markers were also associated with decreased total brain volume.

Researchers concluded, “Vitamin B12 status may affect the brain through multiple mechanisms.”

At particular risk are older people who can’t absorb B12 well from food because of aging and because of taking certain medicines. The Institute of Medicine and latest federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that those over age 50 should consume B12-fortified foods and/or B12 supplements.  Both of the recommended sources of B12 use a form of the vitamin that is better absorbed.

“Vitamin B12 and cognition have been linked in research with evidence going back a long way,” says Nutrition Letter editor and director of Tuft’s HNRCA Neuroscience and Aging Laboratory.  “Some of the earliest research on vitaminB12 deficiency connected it to central nervous system problems.”

An earlier randomized trial, the VITACOG study, showed that high-dose B-complex supplements slowed brain atrophy in older adults.  Among the subjects with high levels of B12 markers, supplements were more effective than a placebo at preventing cognitive decline.

Foods High in Vitamin B12  The National Institutes of Health lists one serving (Daily Value) of the following cooked foods as good sources of vitamin B12.  Remember that older people may have trouble absorbing it directly from foods.

Liver 800% of DV; Clams, 570% of DV; Rainbow trout, 90% of DV; Sockeye salmon, 80% of DV; Top sirloin beef, 23%; White tuna, 17%; Milk, 15%; Large Egg, 10%.

from Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, January 2012


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