Vitamin B12 key to brain health

New studies link vitamin B12 to normal brain size and healthy mental function, and link inflammation to mental decline.

In a study of brain size, doctors explained that the brain can shrink (atrophy) and as it does, risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other mental decline rises. Researchers measured blood levels of vitamin B12 in 107 men and women, aged 61 to 87, who functioned well physically and mentally. They found that those with low vitamin B12 levels were six times more likely to have brain atrophy than were those with higher vitamin B12 levels. Doctors noted that, “Many factors that affect brain health were thought to be out of our control, but this study suggests that by simply adjusting our diets to consume more vitamin B12, we may be able to prevent brain shrinkage and perhaps save our memory.”

In a mental health study, researchers measured vitamin B12 blood levels in more than 1,600 older adults and followed up for 10 years. Mental function declined in some younger participants but remained healthy in some older ones. Doctors found that as the level of vitamin B12 rose, mental decline slowed, and when a sign of inflammation—called- homocysteine— was high, mental decline accelerated.

Genomics is a new area of science where researchers explore, among other things, how our genes affect diet and health. In a study of genetic cancer risk factors, the National Cancer Institute collaborated with researchers from Harvard and Tufts Universities, Boston and Medford, Massachusetts, respectively, to analyze the entire gene code of over 2,800 women.Unexpectedly, they found a gene (FUT2) that may, depending on its form, help or interfere with the ability of the body to digest, absorb and use vitamin B12.

Investigators explained that vitamin B12 separates from food while in the stomach, and that the good form of FUT2 may protect vitamin B12 from stomach acid and harmful bacteria until the nutrient can safely enter the small intestine and be absorbed into the bloodstream.

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