“Honey I Shrunk My Brain!” How B Vitamins may slow down brain shrinkage
Dementia researchers at the University of Oxford have shown that supplementing with B vitamins can significantly reduce brain shrinkage in later life, and could subsequently help protect against Alzheimer’s disease.
Previous research has linked high levels of homocysteine to cognitive impairment, which could be a contributing factor to Alzheimer’s. Homocysteine levels rise with age, and intake of folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 can help to reduce these levels in the blood.
In a study of 156 patients with mild cognitive impairment – a risk factor for Alzheimer’s – those people who took vitamin B supplements slowed the shrinkage in particular regions of the brain known to be affected by Alzheimer’s disease by 7-fold over the two-year period of the study.
Dr David Smith who led the study was cited in the Natural Products magazine as saying: “Our work shows that a key part of the disease that leads to Alzheimer’s disease, the atrophy of specific brain regions, might be modified by a safe and simple intervention.”
B vitamins are critical for the synthesis of DNA and protect brain health by maintaining neural cell integrity. The three B vitamins given in the above study were folic acid, vitamin B6 and Vitamin B12, which can be indirectly assessed by measuring homocysteine, which as noted above, is a risk factor for brain atrophy, cognitive impairment and dementia.
It is not surprising then that the greatest response to the B vitamins in the above study was seen in volunteers with the highest homocysteine levels (over 11 µmol/L) at the beginning of the study.
While it is too early to know whether these effects mean that someone is less likely to develop dementia in the long term if they supplement with B vitamins, based on what is known to date about homocysteine and B vitamin supplementation I feel that it is certainly worth testing your homocysteine level and taking steps to address any elevated levels via dietary modification and supplementation. Additional measures that could help maintain healthy brain function include weight control, monitoring your blood pressure and exercise.
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