Vitamin B12 Deficiency Linked to Cognitive Impairment
A new study published in Neurology has found that a deficiency in Vitamin B12 is associated with brain atrophy and increased cognitive decline. The study, which examined 121 patients age 65 and over throughout a 5 year period, measured serum markers of vitamin B12, neuropsychological test results, and MRI scans to draw conclusions about B12 and the brain. After adjusting for age, sex, education, race, and other factors, the researchers found that the level of vitamin B12 markers was correlated with global cognitive scores and rate of brain shrinkage.
In light of these findings, you might be asking: “How can I ensure I’m getting enough B12 in my diet?” The first thing to do is to understand which foods are good sources of vitamin B12. The best source is calf’s liver–just 1 ounce provides nearly 200% of the RDA for B12. Snapper, sardines, venison, and salmon are also excellent sources. Beef, lamb, scallops, and shrimp have a slightly lower concentration of B12 but remain good dietary sources. Of course, sardines and salmon are also great dietary sources of Omega-3 fatty acids while being very low in mercury, so they are a top choice for overall brain health. Because of its niacin content, lamb is also a relatively brain healthy food–niacin has also been shown to have protective effects on the brain.
B12 is a very unusual vitamin, because neither plants nor animals seem to be able to make it. The only sources of B12 are bacteria, yeast, mold, fungi, and algae. The relationship between these microorganisms and the food we eat determines the dietary sources of B12. Because of this, it can be difficult for vegetarians to find dietary sources of B12. Some types of nutritional yeast offer B12, which is why they are a common additive for many people who don’t eat meat. Depending on how they’re prepared, soy products like tofu and tempeh may also have B12, but it depends completely on which types of microorganisms are used in the fermenting process.
It’s important to understand how B12 works in your body. In order to properly absorb B12, your body also needs B6. Luckily, many foods rich in B12 are also good sources of B6–like calf’s liver, snapper, and salmon–so if you’re eating those, you should be in good shape vis a vis absorption. Other foods like tuna, bananas, and poultry are also great sources of B6.
Certain medical conditions and some types of medications can leach B12 from the body and create a deficiency. For example, if you have gastrointestinal distress, you may not be absorbing B12 properly. In addition, if you take some medications on a regular basis, like certain classes of anti-psychotics, anti-Parkinson’s, anti-convulsives, or cholesterol-lowering drugs, your body’s B12 supply may be additionally diminished. If any of this applies to you, you may want to ask your doctor about whether you need to do anything about your B12 intake.
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