Vitamin B12 is only required in tiny amounts, but it is still an extremely important vitamin. It protects the entire nervous system, helps to regenerate nerve cells, and therefore ensures good concentration and a healthy brain into old age. Conversely, a vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to impaired mental performance, even brain shrinkage, and dementia. Therefore, check your vitamin B12 level in good time and ensure a better supply of vitamin B12 in the event of a deficiency.
Vitamin B12 for the brain and nerves
Vitamin B12 has many different functions and tasks in the organism. It is involved in blood formation and cell division. Vitamin B12 is therefore particularly needed where the cells divide very quickly, e.g. B. in the intestinal mucosa or in the blood. Vitamin B12 is also urgently needed in the nervous system. There it forms, regenerates, and protects the so-called myelin sheath, which surrounds the nerve cells.
For this reason, vitamin B12 is also the vitamin that can protect the brain and nervous system from damage in old age, so dementia and Alzheimer’s develop significantly less frequently or more slowly if people are well supplied with vitamin B12. Yes, a sufficiently high vitamin B12 level should even help prevent Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis or slow down their progression. And in the case of polyneuropathy and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), high-dose vitamin B12 is used to protect the nerves in therapy.
Vitamin B 12 deficiency causes the brain to shrink
In 2008, researchers wrote in the journal Neurology that the lower the vitamin B12 levels in older people, the more brain volume decreases. A similar report was made in 2011 by scientists at Rush University Medical Center. They studied 120 elderly people over the age of 65. Whenever four out of five markers indicated a vitamin B12 deficiency (e.g. homocysteine, methylmalonic acid, etc.), the brain volume was always smaller and the results of cognitive tests were worse.
Even mild deficiency can hasten mental decline
In 2012, Tufts University in Boston found that even a mild vitamin B12 deficiency can be seen as an indicator of an increased risk of dementia. Because even a weak vitamin B12 deficiency leads to accelerated mental deterioration in older people – as studies on almost 550 people had shown.
It is well known that a severe vitamin B12 deficiency can quickly lead to neuropsychiatric symptoms (hallucination, euphoria, delusions, anxiety, apathy, etc.). However, we now know that even a mild deficiency has negative effects on health and also affects many more seniors than previously thought.
The two main reasons for the high prevalence of vitamin B12 deficiency among seniors are gastrointestinal complaints on the one hand and side effects from medication on the other. In the case of gastrointestinal complaints, which occur very frequently in the elderly, vitamin B12 can no longer be well absorbed. Drugs that can block vitamin B12 absorption include acid blockers (prescribed for heartburn or as so-called stomach protection), gout medication, and anticoagulants (also called blood thinners). The diabetes drug metformin can also contribute to a vitamin B12 deficiency.
“Our observations suggest that cognitive decline can also be the result of an insufficient vitamin B12 supply. Maintaining a healthy vitamin B12 level should therefore be aimed at in any case,”
according to Dr. Paul Jacques, study author and then director of the Nutrition Epidemiology Program at Tufts University. However, since older people in particular often have problems absorbing vitamin B12 from food, they should eat foods fortified with vitamin B12 or take a vitamin B12 dietary supplement to remedy a vitamin B12 deficiency.
The less vitamin B12, the higher the risk of Alzheimer’s
In Sweden, too, research is being carried out in this direction and in 2012 it was written in the Journal of Internal Medicine that people who eat a diet rich in vitamin B12 are better protected against Alzheimer’s. For this study, the holotranscobalamin levels (active vitamin B12 in the blood) and the homocysteine levels in the blood of 271 people between 65 and 79 years of age who had not yet developed dementia at the start of the study were examined.
Homocysteine is an endogenous but toxic intermediate product that is produced during the metabolism of proteins. Due to its toxicity – it can damage the blood vessels – it is quickly broken down in the healthy organism. However, three vitamins are required for this breakdown: vitamin B12, vitamin B6 and folic acid (which also belongs to the group of B vitamins). The higher the homocysteine level, the more serious a vitamin B deficiency.
After seven years, 17 of the participants had Alzheimer’s. The researchers have now found that for every small increase in homocysteine levels, the risk of Alzheimer’s increased by 16 percent. At the same time, the risk of Alzheimer’s fell by 2 percent for every small increase in vitamin B12 levels. Other possible influencing factors could be excluded, e.g. B. Age, gender, nicotine consumption, blood pressure, weight, and education.
In 2013, Iranian researchers also found high homocysteine levels in patients with multiple sclerosis. At the same time, those affected had low vitamin B12 and folic acid levels, so healthy vitamin B levels should be ensured as early as possible in this disease.
Low vitamin B12 levels in autistic people and schizophrenia
How low vitamin B12 levels can even lead to neuropsychic disorders was read in January 2016 in an article in the journal Public Library of Science One (PLOS One). dr Richard Deth, professor of pharmacology at Nova Southeastern University, and an international team discovered that vitamin B12 levels were not only very low in the elderly, but also in people with schizophrenia and in autistic children under the age of 10. Yes, autistic children only had a third of the vitamin B12 levels of healthy children.
However, the B12 levels in the brain were measured here. If the level drops there, it is far from showing in the blood, explained Dr. deth These enormous vitamin B12 deficits in the brain could explain why those affected show neurological and neuropsychiatric symptoms. Because while a certain(!) decrease in vitamin B12 levels is normal with age, low vitamin B12 levels at a young age can impair the development of nerves and the brain. Those who experience a greater drop in vitamin B12 levels in old age than is normally the case will lose their ability to learn and remember as they get older.
Take antioxidants and vitamin B12
Autism and schizophrenia are closely related to oxidative processes in the brain. It is assumed that the oxidative processes are also responsible for the decrease in the vitamin B12 level. Now it is time to check whether taking antioxidants (such as glutathione to reduce the oxidative processes) and vitamin B12 (in the form of methylcobalamin) could help with the diseases mentioned.
Vitamin B12 as a dietary supplement – What you need to consider
If you want to take vitamin B12 as a dietary supplement, then methylcobalamin is recommended – the most absorbable and usable form of vitamin B12. Often there is also purely synthetic cyanocobalamin in food supplements. It is cheaper to produce but not as bioavailable as methylcobalamin.