Vitamin B12 is critical for optimal brain function. So much so that even when B12 blood levels are in the normal range, if they're in the lower end of the range, it can lead to cognitive impairment. So how do doctors recognize a B12 deficiency? The symptoms include weakness, tiredness, lightheadedness, constipation, decreased appetite, nerve problems like numbness or tingling, decreased balance, vision loss, depression, memory loss, or behavioral changes. Wait a second. That sounds an awful lot like a description of aging. Could it be that undiagnosed vitamin B12 deficiency, even when the levels are in the normal range, could be why you can't remember the name of that book or where you put your car keys? A new study says yes.
Researchers recently reported on a study of 100 men and women with mild cognitive impairment. They were all between the ages of 50-80 years. All of them had vitamin B12 blood levels that were in the normal range. But the group was split. Half of them had levels low in the range and the other half had levels in the upper end of the range. Then the authors administered a test for cognitive function called the Auditory Verbal Learning Test. And that's not all. They also performed an MRI scan of their brains paying particular attention to the volume and microstructure of the hippocampus. The hippocampus is an area of the brain that controls short term memory and orientation. It's also the first area hit in Alzheimer's. Here are the amazing results of what they discovered.
The patients with the B12 levels in the lower end of the range "showed a significantly poorer learning ability and recognition performance than did patients with high-normal vitamin B12 levels. Also, the microstructure integrity of the hippocampus was lower in patients with low-normal vitamin B12." This is not perfect proof that the higher your B12 levels are the better your cognitive function, but it's very strong evidence. The authors conclude the report by stating, "Future interventional trials are needed to assess whether supplementation of vitamin B12 may improve cognition in mild cognitive impairment patients even in the absence of clinically manifested vitamin B12 deficiency." But here's the thing.
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If you don't feel like waiting for those studies to see whether or not boosting your B12 levels will also boost your brain function, you don't have to. Ask your doctor to give you an injection of 2 mg of the best form of B12, methylcobalamin, once a week for eight weeks. Why so long? That's because no matter what kind of treatment you're taking to affect the nervous system, it takes at least two months to see results. Why an injection? That's because the biggest reason why people have lower B12 levels as they get older is that aging decreases their ability to absorb B12 orally. So just to be safe, try the injections first. Then if it works, you can always try switching to an oral form of the vitamin. And here are a few more points to make.
The study shows how misleading simply looking at vitamin and mineral blood levels are. Not long ago, I reported to you on a study that showed that even when the blood levels are normal, some people have low levels of B12 in their brains. The other thing to mention is that besides getting older, there are other ways to have low B12 levels.
One is a vegan diet. Another is heavy drinking. And a third cause is taking one of the many medications that doctors prescribe for reflux and heartburn. I recommend that all of you take at least 2 mg of methylcobalamin every day in your multivitamin along with therapeutic doses of all of the other B-vitamins. That's just one of the reasons that for the last 25 years, I've been taking a scoop of my Super Immune QuickStart powder every day just to be sure. QuickStart is loaded with the right balance and the right doses of all of the B-vitamins.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD
Köbe T, Witte AV, et al. Vitamin B-12 concentration, memory performance, and hippocampal structure in patients with mild cognitive impairment. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Apr;103(4):1045-54.