Volume 2, Issue 7
February 12, 2009

How to keep your brain from shrinking with age

Did you know that your brain is going to shrink as you get older? Conventional medicine says it's just a fact of life. But your brain doesn't have to shrink — at least not at the "normal" rate. A recent study has shown that you can reduce the rate of brain-cell loss by more than six times. And all you have to do is take one vitamin.

The study looked at 107 volunteers between the ages of 61 and 87 years. None of the participants had any signs of memory or cognitive impairment. The volunteers received a physical examination every year along with a battery of memory and cognition testing. The researchers collected blood every year and evaluated it for vitamin B12 status. In addition, they determined the participants' brain size by an annual MRI scan. The study ran for five years. Here's what they found:

All of the patients lost some brain mass in the five-year period. But when the researchers compared the amount of brain loss to their vitamin B12 levels, an amazing fact became apparent. The researchers divided the group into three different groups depending on their vitamin B12 status. The group whose B12 status was in the lowest one-third had 6.17 times more brain loss than those in the upper one-third.

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The authors said that lower levels of vitamin B12, even low levels within the so-called "normal" range, can cause brain atrophy and memory problems.

This study clearly demonstrates the importance of maintaining optimal B12 status. The lower your status, even if it's in the normal range, the faster your brain will shrink. And notice I said "status," not levels. There's a difference.

"Status" refers to the level of active B12 in your blood, not your overall level of B12. Serum (blood) B12 tests can tell you only how much B12 you have. They can't tell you how much of that B12 is active. In order to determine your B12 status, you also have to test for homocysteine (high homocysteine levels are a sign of low active B12 levels) and methylmalonic acid (also high when active B12 is low). Both of these are actually more accurate tests of B12 than the blood tests.

However, there's one other test you have to do as well. You also have to measure the amount of holotranscobalamin (holo-TC) in the bloodstream. Vitamin B12 in the bloodstream is bound to two proteins. One is called haptocorrin and the other transcobalamin. When it is bound to transcobalamin the resulting molecule is holo-TC.

When the standard test for B12 measures your blood level, it is measuring both the B12 bound to haptocorrin and holo-TC. But holo-TC is the only form of B12 that is biologically active. The cells are not able to actively use the B12 that is bound to haptocorrin. And less than 1/4 of the total amount of B12 in the blood exists as holo-TC. So when a B12 blood level is measured, only 1/4 of the B12 it is measuring is the active form of the vitamin. And that's why it can be so misleading.

The authors of this study used all four tests. Interestingly enough, although the total B12 in the blood and the holo-TC both showed the increase in brain atrophy, the MMA and homocysteine levels did not.ÿSo I recommend that just to be sure, when evaluating B12 status, doctors should check all four tests.

If you want to maintain normal brain function throughout your life, ask your doctor to perform these four tests for vitamin B12. You may have to find an integrative physician from ACAM (www.acam.org) to perform these tests. If your B12 status is low, your doctor should give you a vitamin B12 injection. You'll also want to eat plenty of foods with B12. These include meat and dairy products.

Finding your Real Cures,

Frank Shallenberger, MD


Vogiatzoglou A, Refsum H, Johnston C, et al. Vitamin B12 status and rate of brain volume loss in community-dwelling elderly. Neurology. 2008 Sep 9;71(11):826-32

Herrmann W, Obeid R, Schorr H, et al. The Usefulness of Holotranscobalamin in Predicting Vitamin B12 Status in Different Clinical Settings. Current Drug Metabolism, 2005, 6, 47-53 47

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