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Could B-12 status be important factor in Alzheimer’s risk? European tracking study adds to evidence

  [ 9 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ] • October 19, 2010

“Low levels are surprisingly common in the elderly…. [but] more research is needed to confirm these findings before vitamin B-12 should be used solely as a supplement to help protect memory.”

A new study shows that vitamin B-12 P278 may protect against Alzheimer’s disease, adding more evidence to the scientific debate about whether the vitamin is effective in reducing the risk of memory loss. The research was published Oct 19 by Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

“Our findings show the need for further research on the role of vitamin B-12 as a marker for identifying people who are at increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” said study author Dr. Babak Hooshmand, MD, MSc, with Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden. “Low levels of vitamin B-12 are surprisingly common in the elderly. However, the few studies that have investigated the usefulness of vitamin B-12 supplements to reduce the risk of memory loss have had mixed results.”

For the seven-year study, researchers took blood samples from 271 Finnish people age 65 to 79 who did not have dementia at the start of the study. During that time, 17 people developed Alzheimer’s disease.

Blood samples were tested for levels for homocysteine, an amino acid associated with vitamin B-12 [in that B-12 helps break down homocysteine], and for levels of the active portion of the vitamin, called holotranscobalamin.

• Too much homocysteine in the blood has been linked to negative effects on the brain, such as stroke.

• However, higher levels of vitamin B-12 can lower homocysteine.

The study found that:

• For each micromolar* increase in the concentration of homocysteine, the risk of Alzheimer’s disease increased by 16%,

• Whereas each picomolar* increase in concentration of the active form of vitamin B-12 reduced risk by 2%.

[*Note: These are measures of concentration in the blood. A picomolar appears to be 1 millionth the concentration of a micromolar. Because B-12 is water-soluble, amounts beyond what the body needs are excreted in the urine.]

• The results stayed the same after taking into account other factors, such as age, gender, education, smoking status, blood pressure and body mass index.

• The addition of folate did not appear to raise or lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. [Note: Folate, another B vitamin, is needed to make the cellular building blocks DNA & RNA, and red blood cells. Good food sources include peanuts, beef liver, peas, beans, corn, greens such as spinach.]

“More research is needed to confirm these findings before vitamin B-12 should be used solely as a supplement to help protect memory,” says Dr. Hooshmand.

Vitamin B-12 can be found in fish, poultry and other meat products. [Note: These foods, and milk, are sources of B-12, which must be freed from food by stomach acid and pancreatic enzymes, bound to intrinsic factor that the stomach secretes, then synthesized by bacteria for uptake in the small intestine (only in the presence of calcium that the pancreas provides) into the bloodstream. A neat system requiring efficiently-functioning stomach, pancreas, and small intestine. See Linus Pauling Institute Information Center for much more information on B-12.]

The study was supported by the Karolinska Institutet, the Swedish Research Council for Medical Research, the European Commission Seventh Framework Programme, the Academy of Finland, the Ragnhild and Einar Lundströms Minne Lindhés Foundation, the Stohnes Foundation, the Gamla Tjanarinnor Foundation and the Dementia Foundation of Sweden.

Source: American Academy of Neurology news release, Oct 12, 2010; Linus Pauling Institute Information Center

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