B Vitamins May Delay Alzheimer’s

September 16, 2010

B Vitamins May Delay Alzheimer’s 

Reference:  Online Public Library of Science Sept 9, 2010 Competency: Brain Health 

 B Vitamins are an interesting bunch.  They are water-soluble and tend to get washed out easily.  If we are on water pills for high blood pressure we tend to lose a lot B vitamins.  If our “one alcohol a day” is a bit bigger than the preferred size, we may not get enough nutrition from regular food and be short of B vitamins, thiamine in particular.  But more insidious than that, we have reported before that the gradually loss of our ability to absorb B12 sneaks up on us after 50 because we slowly lose the ability to make intrinsic factor, a protein our stomach makes that snags B12 and helps us absorb it. 

 Hence, here we find ourselves, living into our 70s and 80s with a gradual decline in B vitamins.  B vitamins are critical to assisting your mitochondria in making energy.  If you don’t have energy in your brain, you can’t think as well.   But worse than that, without sufficient energy, your blood brain barrier starts breaking down and you are more vulnerable to the effects of MSG soaking into your brain.  Did you know that drinking one can of spicy tomato juice with MSG in it will raise your blood level of glutamate some 20 fold?  And in an elderly person, that MSG can leak into their brain cells because the glial cells (protectors of our neurons) aren’t able to make enough energy to keep the MSG out.  MSG makes neurons overexcited, and then they die. And if enough neurons die, your brain shrinks.  It follows that a shrinking brain has less computing capacity than a bigger brain.   

And that all comes back to those nifty B vitamins.   Normal brain shrinkage is only about .5% per year.  Alzheimer’s sufferers lose as much as 2-3% per year. So, it would follow that if you tried giving a whole lot of extra B vitamins to folks who are getting along in years, and then measure them for brain shrinkage you find that the participants who got the extra B vitamins did MUCH better at shrinkage.  

Take 168 volunteers with “Mild Cognitive Impairment” and follow them for two years.  On average, the folks getting the B vitamins had a 30% decrease in shrinkage compared to the placebo folks.  That’s not just a little.  That’s a lot.  In some folks, it was even up to 50% less shrinkage.  Mild cognitive impairment is not the same as Alzheimer’s, but once diagnosed with it you have about a 50% chance of developing Alzheimer’s in the next 5 years.  This is more than the 40 year old stressed out Mom who can’t remember where her car keys were.   

MCI is enough impairment that your daily life is becoming limited. What we also know is that about 8% of our brains are omega fatty acids, and folks who supplement themselves with DHA also have bigger brains.  Not proven is what happens with a combination of B vitamins and omega fats.  If I take extra B vitamins and fish oil, will my brain stay at its current size?  We don’t know, but it’s a conjecture worth gambling on. 

 WWW.  What will work for me?  Dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, whole grains are all magnificent sources of B vitamins.  The DASH diet, with it’s 9 servings a day of vegetables and fruits will do it for you.  With 9 servings of veges and fruits, you will easily get enough B.  But a Vitamin pill or a B complex isn’t a bad idea.  Over age 50, you might just ask your doctor about a B12 blood level once in a while.

Column Written by Dr. John E Whitcomb, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI 53045. (262-784-5300)