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Alzheimer’s Disease Linked to Vitamin B12

Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most devastating illnesses for both patients and caregivers. That’s why the findings of a new study out of Finland published in the October 19th issue of Neurology were met with such optimism.

According to the study, which examined the dietary intake of 271 Finns, a natural health diet rich in vitamin B12 may help protect against developing Alzheimer’s disease. Of course, experts warn that it is too early to head to the store to buy natural health supplements and B12 pills.

But overall, evidence from multiple studies continues to point to a link between B vitamins and age related cognitive decline. For example, previously completed trials have found that there is a common trait in the elderly: vitamin B12 deficiency.

This new Finnish study discovered that the participants who consumed the highest amount of dietary B12 were the least likely to be diagnosed with dementia. Natural dietary sources of B12 can be found in meat, fish, eggs, milk and even some fortified cereals.

"Our results indicate that vitamin B12 and related metabolites may have a role in Alzheimer's disease,” said lead researcher Dr. Babak Hooshmand, “but more research is needed before we can get conclusions on the role of vitamin B12 supplements on neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease."

What Is The Link?
Scientists have known for some time now that homocysteine in high levels can raise the risk of dementia. Homocysteine levels can be effectively lowered by increasing the amount of vitamin B12 in the blood.

This recent Finnish study highlighted the connection. Scientists looked at a group of people between the ages of 65 and 79. They found that brain shrinkage, which is linked with Alzheimer’s, progressed more slowly in the participants who were taking high doses of vitamins, including B12.

According to the results, 17 of the participants were diagnosed with dementia over the following seven years. When examining the role of B12 and homocysteine levels, researchers found that participants with high levels of homocysteine appeared to be at greater risk compared to those with high levels of the active component of B12. The researchers took care to compensate for factors like age, sex, education, smoking, blood pressure and weight.

Further, researchers found that each “micromolar” increase in homocysteine equated to a 16% rise in Alzheimer’s disease risk. On the other hand, each “picomolar” increase in vitamin B12 equated to a 2% reduction in risk. (Micromoles and picomoles are both units of measure.)

The chief executive of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, Rebecca Wood, responded to the study saying, "The strongest evidence we have for reducing dementia risk is to eat a healthy, balanced diet, take moderate exercise, and keep cholesterol and blood pressure in check, particularly in mid-life," not to simply start buying up supplements. 

Another vitamin B researcher, Professor Helga Refsum, said that while “relatively small, with few cases of dementia, [this new study] should act as another incentive to start a large scale trial with homocysteine-lowering therapy using B vitamins to see whether such a simple treatment may slow the development of Alzheimer's or other dementia."

Sources:
bbc.co.uk/news/health
businessweek.com

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