Vitamin B12 and Brain Shrinkage

September 28, 2011

Vitamin B12 and Brain Shrinkage 

 Competency: Brain Health Reference:  Neurology Oct 2011 Dr Morris et al: Chicago Health and Aging Project 

The Chicago Health and Aging Project is a unique longitudinal study looking a discrete group of aging adults.  In this part of the study, Dr. Morris et al from Rush looked at their serum B12 level and the associated markers of B12 functioning.  B12 is an interesting vitamin.  It takes a special binding protein for it to be absorbed.  As we age, we make less of that protein in our stomachs and the gradual onset of deficiency isn’t always easily picked up.  We can become anemic, or we can become slightly intellectually impaired before we have any other symptoms. 

 In your brain B12 is thought to play a role in helping wrap your neurons in myelin, the protein that allows impulses to pass along faster.  “Losing your edge” isn’t easy to measure over time when you just accept that you are growing older.  Measuring your processing speed isn’t something we do in medicine yet. This study didn’t “prove” that B12 causes the brain shrinkage and loss.  In fact, B12 levels weren’t what they found were abnormal.  The association with brain shrinkage and loss of intellectual capacity in this study came with other markers of B12 deficiency.  

Methylmalonate and homocysteine are both part of complex metabolic pathway in which many of the B vitamins take part, including folate and B12.  You want lower levels to show that your body is processing properly.  One important component of that processing is how you metabolize your hormones such as estrogen.  (A nice prior study was back in 2003 in the European Jr of Clinical Nutrition) This study just shows how important following those tiny details matter.  Knowing your B12 level and having it checked by your doctor is an important function of your annual physical exam once you are over 60.   

You get B12 primarily from animal products, so vegetarians and vegans do have a heightened risk of being low in B12.  With all the emphasis on eating less meat in our health-conscious society, our exposure to B12 drops.  It doesn’t make sense to me that we get a critical vitamin from a food source we “shouldn’t eat”.    Throughout evolution, we must have had a diet that included meat so regularly that there was no biological penalty to losing the ability to synthesize it.  This leads me to conjecture that it’s not the meat, per se, that is the problem, but the type of meat we are eating which is feedlot raised and full of different fats that our bodies are calling for.  But B12 isn’t found in many plant products.  (Vegan Source

 At Brookfield Longevity we are following a functional medicine approach to B12 and giving it in Meyer’s solution IV.  Very interesting results with some folks having rather dramatic improvement in neurologically related symptoms.  I’m becoming a believer that more of us are deficient than we realize. 

 WWW. What will work for me?  I taking a supplement because I’m over 55 and I don’t eat much meat.  If you are a vegan/vegetarian, you might want to make the same extra effort! 

 Written by  John E Whitcomb MD Brookfield Longevity and Healthy Living Clinic 17585 W North Ave, Suite 160 262-784-5300 or or