One hundred billion nerve cells in the brain act as a communications device, governing thinking, learning and the five senses, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
To preserve brain health, a 2016 study showed that the eight B-vitamins collectively “are essential for optimal physiological and neurological functioning.”
In 2010, researchers from the United Kingdom examined the role B vitamins play in lowering levels of homocysteine, a common amino acid found in the blood, primarily derived from red meat. The study authors surmised that lowering homocysteine in patients with mild cognitive impairment could slow the rate of decline.
The study involved 168 subjects with a mean annual brain atrophy rate of 76 percent for the active treatment group and a little over one percent in the placebo group. At the conclusion of the trial, the researchers found that B-vitamins did indeed slow the rate of decline, which may have significance for those whose disease progresses to Alzheimer’s. They noted, “Since accelerated brain atrophy is a characteristic of subjects with mild cognitive impairment who convert to Alzheimer’s disease, trials are needed to see if the same treatment will delay the development of Alzheimer’s disease.”
Scott Michael Schreiber, DC, CNS, and practitioner in Newark, Delaware, cited a study that showed B-vitamins reduced brain shrinkage associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
“While the cause of Alzheimer’s is still unknown, it is becoming clear that our diet can slow the progression of the disease. The B-vitamins included in this study were B-6, B-12 and folic acid (B-9),” he said. “These particular B-vitamins were chosen due to their ability to slow homocysteine. The authors of the study hypothesized that lowering overall homocysteine would slow the progression of the disease and that is exactly what happened, up to 90 percent. In addition, there are other studies showing that consuming B-12 earlier in life reduced their risk dramatically.”
Schreiber pointed out that when it comes to cognition, individuals deficient in B-12 usually score lower on tests than those who have an adequate supply of B-12. A simple blood level test can determine if you have a vitamin B-12 or folic acid deficiency, but he prefers organic acid testing to get a snapshot of overall function.
“B vitamins are cofactors for many metabolic reactions. If one was deficient in B vitamins, there would be an abundance of substrates (i.e., the material or from which an organism lives, grows or derives nourishment) and little product,” he said.
Taking B vitamin supplements is an easy way to ensure your patients are getting the correct amount of nutrients and not deficient in any categories.
Adhering to a healthy diet can also help achieve balance in addition to supplements. Turkey, beef, chicken, wild-caught salmon, sweet potatoes, potatoes, sunflower seeds, pistachio nuts, avocado, spinach, and bananas all contain B-6.
“You can find folate in fresh, raw and organic leafy green vegetables, especially broccoli, asparagus, spinach and turnip greens, and a wide variety of beans, especially lentils, but also in pinto beans, garbanzo beans, navy and black beans, and kidney beans,” Schreiber said. “It should be noted that the natural form of B-9 is folate, rather than folic acid. Folic acid is synthetic and has to be converted to become active. Many people cannot efficiently convert folic acid to the active form due to a genetic reduction in enzyme activity.”
Good sources of B-12, which is found almost exclusively in animal tissues, are foods such as beef and beef liver, lamb, snapper, venison, salmon, shrimp, scallops, poultry, eggs and dairy products, according to Schreiber. “In addition, nutritional yeast contains high amounts of B-6, B-12 and folate. This can be added to any dish and gives it a cheesy flavor and is popular in vegan cooking,” he added.
Unlike some other vitamins, it’s difficult to overdose on B vitamins since they are water-soluble and are excreted through urination when not needed, Schreiber explained. “The previously mentioned studies used several times the recommended daily allowance. In my opinion, dosing of B vitamins can be very high over an extended period of time before any adverse effects will occur,” he said. “All B vitamins are produced by your intestinal bacteria, provided that it is healthy. In order for your body to optimize B vitamin production, eat fermented foods and avoid processed and sugar containing foods.”
Recommending your patients take B-vitamin supplements or including B-vitamins in their diets can help those at risk for brain atrophy.