Brain Atrophy and Vitamin B-12 Deficiency – Should You Be Using Supplements?

A recent nutritional research study published in 'Neurology' 2008; 71: 826-832, suggests that having lower end levels of vitamin B-12, often considered to be within an acceptable range, could be damaging to normal brain size. Another study conducted at Tufts University in Boston in 2000 estimated that about 40 percent of the US Population has a vitamin B-12 deficiency.

Vitamin B-12 deficiencies should be considered a public health concern, along with many other vital nutrient shortages. This applies to all ages, not just the aging sector of the population. Vitamin B-12 deficiencies have been associated with brain atrophy (wasting) and has possible connections to developing brain diseases such as Alzheimer's, dementia, and depression.

The University of Oxford in England study involved one hundred and seven participants aged 61 to 87, who were considered to be cognitively normal and healthy at the beginning of the 5 year test study period. The interesting conclusion, noted by the lead researcher, suggested that keeping your vitamin B-12 levels well above the lower level cut-off advances brain performance.

In terms of brain shrinkage, there was a noticeable difference in cognitive functioning between the study participants who had higher levels of vitamin B-12, than those who had lower levels within the normal range.

Other risk factors for developing brain atrophy include high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Beside age being a risk factor in developing a vitamin B-12 deficiency, other possible risks include strict vegetarians, pregnant and lactating women, infants, stomach problems, and gastric disorders.

Vitamin B-12 is naturally found in animal foods. The highest concentration of which is found in mollusks such as clams, scallops, oysters, and in organ meats such as beef liver. To a lesser degree, vitamin B-12 can be obtained in fortified breakfast cereals (synthetic versions), fish, poultry, eggs, beef (sirloin tips), and minimal amounts are found in dairy products.

A realistic concern for vegetarians might be in getting to know where their vitamin B-12 levels are. A simple periodic blood test can confirm whether raising to the upper level range, or slightly above, may improve energy levels and cognitive functioning.

Why is getting enough vitamin B-12 so important? The top ten reasons according to Dr. Joseph Mercola are:

Is needed for the proper digestion, absorption, and metabolism of carbohydrates and fats.
Helps folic acid (vitamin B-9) regulate red blood cells, and aides the body in using iron.
Optimizes nerve health functioning and communication.
Helps healthy cell formation and longevity.
Helps support female reproductive health.
Promotes healthy nerve growth and development. Protects the important fatty sheaths surrounding our nerve endings.
Is critical to circulation and the production of adrenal hormones.
Boosts immunity.
Supports a healthy feeling of overall well-being, by improving moods, memory, mental clarity, and concentration.
Boosts energy levels.

Other risk factors for low vitamin B-12 levels are gastric bypass surgery patients, coffee drinkers (4 or more cups a day), and the use of certain prescription drugs. Proton pump inhibitors such as 'Prilosec' and 'Prevacid', which are used to treat gerd or peptic ulcers, have been implicated in having low levels of this vitamin, as well as H2 receptor antagonists like 'Tagamet', 'Pepsid', and 'Zantac'. Both these drugs lower hydrochloric acid in the stomach, which is needed to absorb B-12, plus, an untreated stomach problem lowers a protein called intrinsic factor which is also needed for B-12 absorption. If the stomach is inflamed or irritated it may not be producing this substance, making it nearly impossible for your body to absorb B-12.

If you are wondering whether you might not be getting enough of this vitamin, and may be considering supplementing, it is important to know that a lot vitamin B-12 supplements are not much help, worth your time or money, and can be out right dangerous. Ideally, the best way to get this important nutrient is in the food you eat.

This vitamin is notoriously hard to absorb and assimilate from a supplement. Studies have shown, and it is widely recognized, that the best way to get B-12 is under the tongue (sublingual form). They are usually better absorbed into the bloodstream than tablets or inhaled versions.

According to Mike Adams of 'Natural News', in an interview with Greg Kunin titled "Bioidentical Vitamins and the Secret of Methylation", high quality vitamin B-12 supplements are rather expensive to produce because of the fermentation process. The cost can be as much as $ 6,000. more per kilo than low quality B-12.

Read labels carefully, as most B-12 supplements available on the shelf are the cyanocobalamin form. It is not only cheaper in price, but also quite toxic. Many supplement makers choose to use this form because it is cheaper to produce. This form will interfere with the body's methylation pathway.

The higher quality form of B-12 is known as hydroxycobalamin or methylcobalamin. These two forms are more readily absorbable, utilized, and safe. The cost is going to be at least double in what the cheaper version sells for, so that in itself should be a dead give away.

But, if you think you may have a hard time remembering which form to look for on the label, just remember 'cyano' as in cyanide poisoning, and methyl or hydroxy as healthy for you.

Confirmation of nutritional therapy's positive effects has been painfully slow in coming to the forefront. Politically correct statements such as "medicines have been shown to disrupt vitamin B-12 absorption, but no clear evidence suggests that prescription medications may actually cause a deficiency when used long-term", seem to be included in a lot of, so-called , unbiased research protocols. These type of statements are not only confusing to most everyone, they have a tendency, by design, to contradict.

If you are in doubt of the treatments that you are considering using to heal yourself, the bottom line may just well be what incentives are behind the proposed solution. Who is really benefitting in the long-run, you or them?

There is nothing wrong with a quality supplement manufacturer making a nice profit off a quality supplement that is as beneficial to its customers as it is to them, or any affiliate marketers. Your job is to, thoroughly, do your homework, in investigating whether a company's sponsored clinical research studies actually back up the results the company promotes in its marketing strategy.