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As we get older, our bodies don’t absorb vitamin B12 as readily as they did during our younger years (B12 is found in animal foods – meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products). And this decreasing absorption may help explain why brain size shrinks with age and seniors develop problems with thinking.
Researchers in Chicago checked blood levels of B12 in 121 seniors taking part in the Chicago Health and Aging Project. The investigators also measured vitamin B12 in five metabolites that are considered markers for B12 activity; a protocol, which they said, could give a fuller picture of B12 status.
The seniors were asked to complete 17 tests to assess their memory and thinking skills. More than four years later, the study participants underwent MRIs to measure brain volume and to look for other signs of brain atrophy.
The research team found that low levels of B12 in the metabolites were associated with poorer thinking skills and smaller brain volume. Because the study was a small one, the investigators said their results must be confirmed by additional research, and cautioned against making dietary changes based on their results. The study was published in the September 27 issues of Neurology.
It is interesting that these researchers concluded that testing B12 levels in the blood isn’t enough to assess its activity in the body, but this is not the first study to associate low levels of B12 with negative changes in brain anatomy and function. A study published in 2008 suggested that seniors with the highest levels of B12 were six times less likely to exhibit brain atrophy than participants whose B12 levels were lower.
It is a good idea for everyone over 50 years of age consume vitamin B12-fortified foods, take a vitamin B12 supplement, or take 50 mcg of B12 as part of a B-complex that contains a full spectrum of B vitamins, including biotin, thiamine, B12, riboflavin and niacin.