Researchers with Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences have discovered that low blood serum levels of B vitamins could lead to a more significant decrease in grey matter atrophy of the brain, speeding the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease. In other words, some of the most recent findings on diet and Alzheimer’s prevention is related to the family of B vitamins, and how upping intake could slow Alzheimer’s progression.
The researchers conducted a clinical trial with more than 150 elderly patients who had mild impairment and a high risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. For two years, one group received B vitamin supplementation, including 800 mg folic acid, 20 mg B6, and 500 mg B12. The other group received a placebo.
Using MRI technology, the participants’ brains were mapped prior, during, and after the two year study period. Specifically, the researchers were looking at the amount of grey matter within the brain. Grey matter shrinks with the development of Alzheimer’s disease and age-related cognitive decline.
In both groups, grey matter shrunk over the two year study period. However, those given B vitamin supplements saw seven times less grey matter shrinkage than the other group who received no supplementation.
The researchers believe the B vitamin supplements had a direct effect on homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is an amino acid. High levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, strokes, and Alzheimer’s disease. It seems that B vitamins should be added to the list of things you should be eating to protect your brain as it ages.
“B vitamins lower homocysteine, which directly leads to a decrease in grey matter atrophy, thereby slowing cognitive decline,” wrote the study authors. Also, the researchers found, B vitamin supplementation helped study participants on the neuropsychological testing that was done to correlate grey matter loss with psychological function.
“Our results show that B-vitamin supplementation can slow the atrophy of specific brain regions that are a key component of the AD process and that are associated with cognitive decline. Further B-vitamin supplementation trials focusing on elderly subjets with high homocysteine levels are warranted to see if progression to dementia can be prevented,” the study abstract concluded.
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It’s worth noting that high homocysteine levels are associated with a diet loaded with animal proteins and devoid of the folate found in plant foods. However, some research has shown strict vegan diets to lead to elevated homocysteine as well. Balance is the key here. Obviously, your diet must include a rich variety of plant foods. But, if you are vegetarian or vegan, finding high quality sources of B vitamins (otherwise concentrated in animal foods) is crucial.
Anyone who has seen a loved one struggle with the onset and development of Alzheimer’s disease knows what a truly frightening experience it can be. And if those loved ones are family members, the fear that you may be predisposed to suffer the onslaught of dementia later in life can be hard to bear. Fortunately, we are learning more and more about the dietary and lifestyle choices that can lead to Alzheimer’s and how to prevent the disease naturally.