B vitamins have long been known to play a key role in metabolism and energy extraction; and a deficiency in vitamins B6 or B12 can cause anemia.
New research suggests that B vitamin supplementation may also play a role in protecting against Alzheimer’s disease – which is good news for the aging U.S. population.
First of all, what are the B vitamins?
There are eight different B vitamins with their own name and function: B1 (thiamine) is involved in numerous body functions including nervous system and muscle functioning and carbohydrate metabolism, just to name a few.
B2 (riboflavin) and B3 (niacin) both aid in digestion; B2 is additionally responsible for helping make oxygen available for use by your body while B3 has implications in the health of your nerves and skin.
B5 (pantothenic acid) and B7 (biotin) are necessary for the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins, fats and amino acids.
B6 (pyridoxine) is necessary for the synthesis of serotonin and norepinephrine and myelin formation.
B9 (better known as folic acid or folate) aids the body in making healthy new cells and is imperative for women of childbearing age to consume to prevent neural tube defects.
Finally, B12 is a key player in red blood cell formation and protein and DNA synthesis.
B vitamins are primarily found in high-protein foods such as fish, meat, poultry, eggs and dairy. Some leafy, green vegetables, beans and peas are also high in B vitamins.
Vitamin B complex as a supplement often contains a combination of all of these individual vitamins, and vitamins for each individual B vitamin are also available.
Given the roles that B vitamins play in the functioning of our nervous systems and in DNA synthesis, it’s not surprising that B vitamin supplementation may also play a role in protecting against Alzheimer’s.
Homocysteine, an amino acid, has been linked to cognitive impairment and the brain shrinkage associated with conditions like Alzheimer’s. A recent study out of the University of Oxford found that high doses of folic acid, vitamins B6 and B12 helped lower the blood levels of homocysteine and further reduced the associated brain shrinkage by up to 90 percent in the areas of the brain most affected in Alzheimer’s patients.
While these results are preliminary and more research is needed, they lend promise for a simple intervention for Alzheimer’s patients.
With Alzheimer’s disease affecting approximately 5.4 million people in the United States, 200,000 of which are under the age of 65, and the rapid rate at which the U.S. population is aging, any treatment options will be well-received and much needed.
For now, until these results are confirmed with larger trials, focus on a healthy lifestyle which includes a healthy diet and physical activity. Talk to your doctor about safe weight-loss options and methods to control high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes