Can Vitamin B Help Reduce Cognitive Decline?

For many, the fear of cognitive decline is one of the biggest worry-factors around ageing. Perhaps you’ve seen first-hand the emotional distress that diseases like Alzheimer’s can cause both the sufferer and their family; or perhaps the idea of losing your sense of self just terrifies you – either way, the chances are it’s a fate you’re keen to avoid. Perhaps you’ve started doing Sudoku puzzles, maybe you’re stepping up your exercise regime in an effort to keep your brain and body sharp, or maybe you’re attacking the Sunday crossword puzzle with renewed vigor – but have you considered the direct impact of your diet on your cognitive health?

Recent research from Oxford and Oslo Universities indicates that taking high levels of the B vitamins – B6, B12 and folic acid in conjunction – can significantly reduce the rate of cognitive decline in the elderly. For 2 years, 168 over-70s were given either a high-strength combination pill containing a strong dose of the three vitamins, or a placebo – and the rate of cognitive decline in the control group was found to be 25% less than that of those who were taking a placebo [1].

The study also measured both group’s levels of the natural amino acid called homocysteine, both before and after the duration of the experiment, and found that the levels of the compound decreased in the treatment group by 22.5%, but increased by nearly 8% in the placebo group. This is important, because high levels of homocysteine are already known to be associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline – vitamin B helps to control homocysteine, keeping it at healthy levels. Significantly, the treatment effect was greatest in the subjects who had the highest homocysteine levels at the beginning of the trial, who experienced an over 50% reduction in atrophy.

This builds on prior research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, which also looked into the effects of B vitamins on homocysteine (and therefore cognitive decline), which found that high doses of vitamin B slowed brain shrinkage (a risk factor for Alzheimer’s) by up to sevenfold [2].

So, given that vitamin B deficiency is primarily caused by poor diet, can we therefore deduce that improving our diets and upping our B-vitamin intake will prevent cognitive decline? Not necessarily. The study does not suggest that taking a high dose of B-vitamins from an early age will reduce your risk of cognitive decline, though it does show that if you have cognitive decline which correlates with high levels of homocysteine it can slow it down – and there’s little doubt that eating a nutritious, balanced diet throughout your life will improve all aspects of your health.

B vitamins can be found in most beans and green vegetables, asparagus and lentils – but don’t put down the Sudoku just yet. More research is necessary to determine the effect of high levels of vitamin B in healthy, middle-aged or younger individuals – so in the meantime, keep exercising, keep filling out those crossword puzzles and make a switch towards a healthy diet – and your cognitive health will thank you in the long run.

The combination of vitamin B’s as used in the Oxford/Oslo double blinded cross over trial is available through the Wellman Clinic.



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