Brain News You Can Use (July 2013)

By Gail Sanders Durgin, Ph.D., BCN-Fellow, QEEGT

Easily Available, Inexpensive Vitamins May Delay Dementia

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that vitamins B6 and B12 combined with folic acid decreased the atrophy or shrinkage of the area of the brain, the medial temporal lobe, which is affected by Alzheimer's disease.

In the PNAS study, 156 people, age 70 and older, who had mild memory loss and high levels of homocysteine, where given a combination of vitamin B12 (500mcg), B6 (20 mg) and folic acid or placebo pills. The volunteers were scanned with MRI (magnetic-resonance imaging) and had their levels of the protein homocysteine measured at the start of the study and were evaluated again two years later. The MRI scans were able to determine how much grey matter or neurons were lost in the medial temporal lobe which is most affected by Alzheimer's.

Looking at the results of the study, the researchers found that among the people with elevated homocysteine, the amount of gray matter decreased 5.2 percent in the subjects who were taking a placebo but decreased only 0.6 percent in the subjects who were taking the combination of B vitamins. People over the age of 60 usually have about 0.5 percent shrinkage of the brain per year. This shrinkage occurs more quickly in people who are deficient in vitamin B12, have mild cognitive disorder or Alzheimer's disease. David Smith of Oxford University, the lead researcher in the study stated, "In those with high homocysteine levels, the specific areas of the brain associated with Alzheimer's disease shrank eight times more slowly in those taking B vitamins than in those on the placebo."

Dr. Smith also stated, "This is strongly indicative that the B vitamins may be substantially slowing down, or even potentially arresting, the disease process in those with early cognitive decline." He continues, "This is the first treatment that has been shown to arrest Alzheimer's related brain shrinkage." This study builds on previous studies that show a relationship between homocysteine levels and the amount of B vitamins seen in blood levels.

If the progress of cognitive impairment can be significantly slowed before the disease becomes debilitating, the disease progression can be slowed enough that people can enjoy their lives until they die of another cause. In order to for this treatment to reach the most people, early screening needs to be performed for the first signs of cognitive decline. Joshua Miller, of Rutgers University, states, "If you have someone who has outright Alzheimer's disease, this isn't really going to help them much. – If you can catch them at an earlier level, they may be able to benefit from it but only if you have elevated homocysteine."

If vitamins are purchased, make sure that they are a high quality vitamin supplement that the body can process easily. This is especially true with folate. Many vitamins and food products contain folic acid. Some people do not transform synthetic folic acid to the biologically active folate. Read the label to insure the supplements you purchase contain natural folate.

The best way to insure that people are getting appropriate amounts of B vitamins is eating a diet that includes B vitamin sources, such as meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products and wild caught fish. Other sources include green leafy vegetables, peas and beans.

Finding this relationship between Vitamin B and dementia is a significant step in preventing this disease. Much additional research need to be conducted to reduce the personal and financial burden this disease produces.


Gail Sanders Durgin, Ph.D. has been providing neurofeedback and biofeedback at Neurofeedback Associates Inc since 2000. She previously worked in mental health and developmental disabilities services for 18 years. Dr. Durgin offers the most advanced treatment services in the field in order to offer individualized client centered solutions to improve brain and life performance.

Published in Natural Triad, July, 2013


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