It’s a painful sight to see someone you love slip into mental decline. Sometimes along with their growing confusion, these people experience signs of depression and often a declining will to live. The downward spiral seems irreversible.
Or is it? A growing body of research is starting to show more and more conclusively that some forms of mental decline, depression, even dementia are connected to a shortage of the common nutrient vitamin B12. Click here to read a fascinating article about this research in a recent issue of the New York Times, written by popular columnist Jane Brody.
Brody says she was drawn to this breakthrough research because, at age 75, she may be prone to vitamin B12 deficiency. That’s due to two factors: first, she prefers not to take supplements except Vitamin D; and second, although she eats well, research shows the ability to absorb vitamin B12 from common foods can decline with age. It is for the latter reason that a growing number of researchers recommend a vitamin B12 supplement for seniors, even those who eat a diet rich in the foods that contain B12: meat, fish, milk, cheese and eggs. As the New York Times article explains, the body’s ability to take in vitamin B12 from food depends on the presence of certain digestive acids which can diminish as we get older. This condition and the resulting deficiency in the body’s supply of vitamin B12 can bring on a whole host of unhappy ailments – physical, mental and emotional.
Brody quotes one psychiatrist from Wayne State University who says that “Depression, dementia and mental impairment are often associated with [a deficiency of B12] especially in the elderly.” This doctor “described a 66-year-old woman hospitalized with severe depression, psychosis and a loss of energy and interest in life who had extremely low blood levels of B12 and whose symptoms were almost entirely reversed by injections of the vitamin.” This encouraging result has been duplicated in several European and British studies, one of which involved 270 seniors with mild cognitive impairment whose brain atrophy was reduced thanks to high doses of vitamin B12. The psychiatrist from Wayne State says, “A B12 vitamin deficiency as a cause of cognitive issues is more common than we think, especially among the elderly who live alone and don’t eat properly.”
Another doctor quoted by Brody says that “symptoms of B12 deficiency include fatigue, tingling and numbness in the hands and feet, muscle weakness and loss of reflexes, which may progress to confusion, depression, memory loss and dementia as the deficiency grows more severe.” Imagine the impact if some of these conditions could be reduced through diet or supplementation! Experts believe that up to 30 percent of those over 50 may have difficulty absorbing vitamin B12 naturally as part of their diet, but new research suggests that this problem may also affect people as young as 25. Certain people including vegetarians and vegans also tend to have low B12 levels, as do nursing home residents where diets are limited. (Jane Brody postulates that “this [B12] deficiency may account in part for the symptoms of cognitive dysfunction so common among nursing home residents.”)
The simple solution, researchers say, involves taking a synthetic B12 supplement. The synthetic source is important because these supplements by-pass the normal dietary absorption process. Details about recommended dosage are best discussed with your doctor. As you know if you’re a regular listener to our radio programs or a reader of the AgingOptions blog, we also strongly recommend you make a geriatric physician, called a geriatrician, the “quarterback” of your medical team. Contact us if you would like some recommendations for geriatricians in your area.
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(originally reported at www.nytimes.com)