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B Gets a Grade “A” for Cognitive Function

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B Gets a Grade “A” for Cognitive Function

Edward Gruber, CN

The B vitamins have been shown to play a role in preventing cognitive decline as we age. A sampling of the evidence:

*A January 2007 study published in the Archives of Neurology suggests that increasing intake of folate and vitamins B6 and B12, which lower homocysteine, may play a role in the prevention of vascular cognitive impairment. High levels of homocysteine, an amino acid in the blood, have been associated with the risk of dementia.

*A study published in the September 2008 issue of Neurology suggests that older individuals with low levels of vitamin B12 are at increased risk of brain atrophy or shrinkage, which are associated with AD and impaired cognitive function.

Interestingly, none of the 107 study participants were deficient in B12, they just had low levels within a normal range -- a finding that “could potentially change what we recommend to people in terms of diet," according to Dr. Jonathan Friedman of Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine.

Low-level sources of B12 include meat, fish, milk and fortified cereals. But a senior would have to consume quite a lot of these foods to get sufficient B12, an impractical solution for getting enough of the vitamin and, in the case of meats, for example, a potentially unhealthy one as well. Further, many older people are low in B12 not due to diet but rather to conditions like pernicious anemia or low stomach acid (which can cause B12 malabsorption).

Where an inconclusive diagnosis for B12 deficiency exists, I strongly recommend checking methyl malonic acid and homocysteine levels, which are the most reliable indicators of a B12 deficiency.

Fighting Free Radicals with NAC

N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine (NAC) is a powerful antioxidant that increases glutathione, one of the brain’s most important antioxidant defenses. NAC has been shown to reduce the formation of the free radical nitric oxide, which has been linked to the development of Parkinson’s disease, AD and several other neurodegenerative diseases. In a study reported several years ago in Neurology, 47 people who met the standard criteria for AD took either 50 mg of NAC per day or a placebo. Both groups were tested at three month and six month intervals. At six months, the group taking the NAC preformed significantly better on all tests, including the Wechsler Memory test, than the placebo group.

Cognitive-related diseases are not only devastating for the older adults they affect, they can place a tremendous burden on families and caregivers. But with ongoing research, we can look forward to a time when many of these conditions can be treated and even prevented through nutritional interventions.