Vitamin B-12 Deficiency May Lead to Cognitive Problems in Aging

New research aims at Vitamin B-12 Presence:

Older people with low blood levels of vitamin B12 markers may be prone to brain shrinkage and cognitive problems, according to a recent study.

"These findings, while inconclusive, should be of interest to seniors and their families," said Alexis Barry, an R.N. and director of Services at HomeCare Options, a not-for-profit home care agency which for more than 57 years has provided services for northern New Jersey's frail and elderly. "They lend support to the contention that low levels of vitamin B12 may be a risk factor for brain atrophy and, as a result, cognitive impairment among the elderly."

The study, conducted by researchers at Ruth University Medical Center as part of the Chicago Health and Aging Project, involved 121 participants who had blood drawn to measure levels of B12 and B12-related markers that can indicate a B12 deficiency. Their memory and other cognitive skills were also measured. Four and a half years later, MRIs were taken of the participants' brains to measure brain volume and look for other signs of damage.

Researchers found that cognitive scores decreased for each increase of one micromole per liter of homocysteine, a marker of B12 deficiency. An earlier study conducted in the U.K. supported this outcome.

"It's probably too early to say that older people need to consider increasing their consumption of B12 levels through changes in their diet or take supplements in order to prevent cognitive problems," said Barry. "But, these findings are certainly of interest."

Heavy sources of vitamin B12 are foods that come from animals, including fish, meat – especially live – eggs, milk and poultry. Fortified breakfast cereals are also considered a good source.

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