Vitamin B12 and the Aging Brain

September 19, 2016

Vitamin B12 and the Aging Brain


Reference: New York Times Sept 6, Wikipedia, Neurology,    

Mary Todd Lincoln was a bit imbalanced. She had terrible tragedies in her life, besides the assassination of her husband. But her behavior was erratic and, in retrospect, is thought to have probably been on account of severe B12 deficiency. She finally died of it. Pernicious anemia is one of the first diseases characterized by "modern medicine" and its final understanding took almost 100 years to elucidate. 

I think B12 is so important, this is my 3rd or 4th summary of it, each from a slightly different angle. Repetition leads to learning. Vitamin B12 is a huge vitamin. No animal can make it naturally. We are all dependent on certain bacteria to manufacture it for us. 

The means by which we absorb it is very complicated. First, we have to have stomach acid to release it from its carrier protein in meat. Then, we make our protective protein in our stomachs to envelope it and shepherd it to our terminal ileum where it is absorbed. That's a lot of steps. Complicated processes fail. As a consequence, by age 30 many of us are beginning to have less than ideal and by age 50 a significant portion of adults, probably at least 30% are too low. 

Now we have the New York Times writing advice article about taking it to reduce risk of dementia. This comes at a time when there is increasing awareness that we don't have to be victims of risk for Alzheimer's. We can avoid it. And B12 is right there in that avoidance process. 

Hooshmand in the CAIDE Study from Sweden published in Neurology, showed that for every 1 mg increase in homocysteine, your risk for Alzheimer's goes up 16%. What is homocysteine? It's a simple amino acid that acts like a shuttle bus. It takes a methyl group from B12 (or folate) and passes it off to glutathione. Glutathione then works to make various toxins water-soluble, and thus able to be excreted. Or it uses the methyl group to help manufacture more choline for your brain, or creatine for your muscles. 

The core function of B12 is to pass off those methyl groups as a way of building or changing molecules. If you don't have enough B12, you can't get rid of gunk. You also can't build proteins, or manage many metabolic processes. This shouldn't be hard. Homocysteine is our marker, our gas gauge,  we can use to see if you are getting enough B12. 

If your homocysteine is anything above 7, you have a 16% increased risk of Alzheimer's. Simplify it to that formula. And you can't accomplish homocysteine lowering with just B12. You also need methylated folate in the mix, almost proportionately. And B6.  Do you know your B12 blood level? Most health system labs say you should have a level of 212 or higher. 

The Chicago Health and Aging Project (CHAP) showed less cognitive decline with B12 of 500. And in fact, showed that the supplementation of food with folate without adding B12 leads to imbalance and another source of cognitive decline. I want a level of 500 as my normal minimum. 

 www.What will work for me. I've been startled by how many of my own clients have low B12 and high homocysteine. My homocysteine was high when I first measured. I'm taking a B12 supplement, actually a B Vitamin mix. I suspect we all should. It's so easy to lower your homocysteine with B vitamins, properly balanced.  (Editors note from 2021.   We now know that providing methyl groups from B12 and folate is only the "supply" side of the formula.  The "demand" side is the need to make choline and the demand of 4 methyl groups to make each choline.  By taking B12/folate, you reduce the demand and lower your homocysteine.) Now, can we get our health systems to pay for measuring the homocysteine? (Not yet!)   

Pop Quiz

1. Your B12 blood level declines with aging because our means of absorbing it decline. T or F?        Answer:   True. ‪

2. Your body naturally makes B12 in your gut. T or F?                     Answer:  False ‪

3. If we are to survive after age 50, one of our markers of good health should be our B12 and homocysteine levels. Give me good targets.                       Answer:  500 and above for B12 and 7 for homocysteine ‪

4. Your insurance will pay for you to measure this. T or F?                      Answer:    Emphatically false. I've done battle with Aurora Health care and they refuse for their own employees to pay for this. ‪

5. If you can't take B12 by mouth, what is the best way to get it?                      Answer:    Under the tongue, or by shots. They should be cheap. I'll sell them to you for about $ 1 a shot if you buy the bottle.