In looking into the importance of a vitamin you need to keep your brain and nerve tissue healthy, I’ve had to wonder – when is a widespread lack of a nutrient a national emergency?
Because every time I investigate the importance of vitamin B12, I’m reminded that millions of people – millions! – don’t get enough.
And that means their brain health – and the well-being of other parts of the body – are at serious risk. Risk they could easily offset with a vitamin supplement that costs pennies. . .
In the latest research, studies have found that among people aged 20 to 59, about one in six don’t get enough vitamin B12. Scientists call this “marginally depleted.”
Among those over 60, the number of people who get insufficient B12 climbs to around 20 percent – one in five of us.1
This vitamin deficiency is an important reason for loss of memory and cognition, and is often seen in dementia patients by doctors who bother to look.
One reason is that the passing years bring on a greater chance of lacking B12, because the digestive tract absorbs it less efficiently the older you get. Your stomach releases less acid as you get older, and that acid is needed to dislodge B12 from the food you eat. Otherwise the vitamin can just pass right through you. By taking a supplement you avoid the absorption problem.
When you lack B12, it can cause your brain to shrink excessively, a development that impairs your memory and cognitive powers.
Chicago Study Finds Brain Cell Loss
A study at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago confirms that older folks with lower B12 levels run an increased risk of losing a significant number of brain cells every year.
The researchers analyzed the brain health of 121 people aged 65 and older in Chicago. At the beginning of the study, these folks’ blood was tested for signs of B12 deficiency. Then, four-and-a-half years later, MRIs showed that those with low levels of B12 at the beginning of the study had experienced greater losses of brain tissue as well as loss of recall and intellectual abilities.2
The fact that so many people today suffer from blood sugar issues – including type 2 diabetes – makes getting enough B12 particularly important.
According to researchers at Hucknall Road Medical Center in Nottingham, England, a lack of B12, especially in people who are taking the diabetes drug metformin, can lead to irreversible nerve damage.
What’s called “peripheral nerve damage” – nerve destruction in places like your limbs and face that can cause pain, numbness and tingling – is a frequent result of diabetes. Aside from discomfort it can hurt your balance and coordination.
Since metformin has been connected to B12 deficiency, the Nottingham scientists urge anyone taking this drug to have their B12 level tested.
Slowing Down Parkinson’s
Another sign of the importance of B12 shows up in a study at the University of California-San Francisco. Researchers there looked at people in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease.
The results showed that those with higher levels of B12 didn’t deteriorate as rapidly and retained more of their muscle control and thinking abilities as the disease progressed.3
In this research, 680 people with early Parkinson’s were tested for their ability to walk and get around as well as how well they could cope with daily living activities and keep their mental focus. Those with a higher B12 status – and with less homocysteine, a harmful amino acid the body can eliminate with the help of B12 – performed better in all categories.
“Our findings demonstrate that low B12 levels are associated with greater walking and balance problems, possibly due to the known effect of B12 deficiency on the central and peripheral nervous systems,” says researcher Chadwick Christine.
As I’ve said before, I think all of this evidence shows that everybody who is middle-aged or a senior should be taking a B12 supplement. Taking huge doses is somewhat controversial, but 1,000 mcg a day could help your brain and body immensely.4 From my research and personal experience, I find it hard to conceive this dose is too much for anyone.
At the same time, it’s far more than you’re going to find in a multivitamin, so you need to take a separate B12 pill. By the way, if you’re a vegetarian and don’t consume much meat, you especially need a supplement because B12 is not found in plants. It seems the exception is certain strains of yeast, and you can get yeast-derived B12 online if you look around.
If you have your blood levels tested, you can better gauge how much you need. The preferred form of B12 is methylcobalamin.