We all have moments when we forget where we put our stuff and don’t remember certain things, and it’s completely normal. However, as we approach the age of 65 and above, this may happen more frequently which can lead to cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.
Our brain cells normally diminish by half percent a year as we get older, and with cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease, the rate of atrophy speeds up. But the good news is cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging as opposed to what most people believe. Although the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease has increased in the recent years, majority of elderly aged 65 years and above still have good mental health. This only means that we can do something to prevent any forms of cognitive impairment. And even with the presence Alzheimer’s and cognitive problems, brain functions can somehow be improved with increased intake of B vitamins as proven by numerous studies.
Vitamin B and Alzheimer’s
B-vitamins are known for their crucial role in brain development. Optimal amounts of B-vitamins maintain healthy nerve cells and enhance cognitive performance. These vitamins also lower homocysteine or neurotoxic compounds. Moreover, B-vitamins not only mitigate homocysteine buildup but also convert it into useful antioxidants like glutathione which are also essential to brain health. Low levels of B vitamins, particularly vitamin B 12 and folate, on the other hand, set the stage for Alzheimer’s disease and other mental health problems.
It was reported in a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders in 2013 that cognitive decline is associated with higher plasma homocysteine levels in older men and women. Participants with elevated homocysteine levels were also found to have lower median amounts folate and vitamin B12. According to the researchers, daily supplementation of vitamin B12 and folic acid can lower homocysteine levels by approximately 25 %. They concluded that B-vitamin supplementation has the potential to alleviate the impacts of cognitive deficits.
A recent study published in the Nutrition Journal on December 2014 showed that higher intake of B vitamins is linked to improved cognitive function among those with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer’s disease. The participants of the study were individuals with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), Alzheimer’s disease patients and cognitively normal individuals aged 60 years and older. Eight different cognitive tests were given to the participants to assess their cognitive function and interviews were conducted a day before their blood analysis to obtain information about their dietary intake including supplements. Blood analysis was performed to determine the participants’ B vitamin and homocysteine levels.
Results revealed that those with higher vitamins B2, B6, B12 and folate intake have lower levels of plasma homocysteine, and the consumption of each B vitamin has been associated with improved scores in specific cognitive tests. In relation to higher intake of B vitamins, Alzheimer’s disease patients showed better scores in numerous tests while those with mild cognitive impairment had improved scores on some tests which were linked to increased vitamin B2, B6 and folate intake. Among individuals with normal cognitive function, no significant association was found between the dietary parameters examined and the test scores.
These findings were supported by previous studies. One study conducted in 2010 at the University of Oxford showed that higher doses of vitamins B12, B6 and folic acid reduced brain shrinkage by up to 53% in participants with elevated homocysteine levels. This result also translated into better performance on cognitive tests. Another study, published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition, reported that long-term supplementation of vitamin B12 and folic acid among depressed and moderately stressed elderly can improve cognitive function as these vitamins fight stress that can otherwise cause memory loss and abnormal brain aging.
Aside from increasing B-vitamin intake, it is essential to maintain a healthy diet, and engage in physical and brain stimulating activities to maintain and enhance cognitive function.