Maintaining good brain health is critical for overall happiness, quality of life, and longevity. The brain is the most complex organ in the human body, controlling our thoughts, emotions, memories, and bodily movements. However, as we get older, our brain health deteriorates, making us more vulnerable to cognitive impairment, memory loss, and other neurological conditions.
As our population ages, neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and Huntington's disease become more common. These diseases cause a progressive deterioration of brain nerve cells, which can result in severe cognitive impairment and physical disability. Unfortunately, no cure exists for these diseases, and treatment options are limited.
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, was discovered as a critical nutrient for red blood cell formation in the 1940s. However, scientists did not discover its role in brain health until much later. Vitamin B12 is required for nerve function, and a lack of it can result in neurological symptoms such as memory loss, confusion, and numbness.
How it works
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system. It is required for the formation of myelin, a fatty substance that surrounds and protects nerve fibers, allowing them to communicate effectively. Myelin also shields nerves from injury and inflammation.
Vitamin B12 also aids in the breakdown of homocysteine, an amino acid found in the blood. Homocysteine levels above a certain threshold have been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative diseases. Vitamin B12 aids in the conversion of homocysteine into methionine, an amino acid required for protein and DNA synthesis.
In addition, vitamin B12 aids in the production of neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers that transmit signals between nerve cells. These neurotransmitters play critical roles in cognitive function, mood regulation, and motor coordination.
A lack of vitamin B12 in the body can affect the nervous system in a variety of ways. The myelin sheath that surrounds nerve fibers can degrade, resulting in neurological symptoms like numbness, tingling, and weakness. If untreated, vitamin B12 deficiency can cause irreversible nerve damage, leading to conditions such as dementia and peripheral neuropathy.
Vitamin B12 supplementation has been shown to alleviate symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency and may also have neuroprotective effects in neurodegenerative diseases. Supplementing with vitamin B12 can help restore myelin production, lower homocysteine levels, and improve neurotransmitter synthesis, resulting in better cognitive function, mood, and motor coordination.
Studies and Results
Several studies have looked into the effectiveness of vitamin B12 supplementation in alleviating the symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Here are some study specifics:
Alzheimer's Disease: For 24 weeks, 121 patients with Alzheimer's disease were randomly assigned to receive either a placebo or a combination of vitamin B12 (1 mg), folic acid (5 mg), and vitamin B6 (25 mg) daily. The study discovered that patients who received the vitamin B12 combination had better cognitive function than those who received a placebo.
Another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition randomized 271 elderly participants with mild cognitive impairment to a placebo or a combination of vitamin B12 (0.5 mg), folic acid (0.8 mg), and vitamin B6 (20 mg) daily for two years. The participants in the study who received the vitamin B12 combination had a slower rate of cognitive decline than those who received the placebo.
Parkinson's Disease: In a study published in the Journal of Parkinson's Disease, 75 Parkinson's disease patients were randomly assigned to either a placebo or a combination of vitamin B12 (1 mg) and folic acid (5 mg) daily for six months. The researchers discovered that patients who received the vitamin B12 combination had better motor function than those who received a placebo.
High homocysteine levels have been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative diseases. The effects of vitamin B12 and folic acid supplementation on homocysteine levels were investigated in a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study included 2,056 people with cardiovascular disease or diabetes and discovered that taking vitamin B12 (0.5 mg) and folic acid (2.5 mg) daily for five years reduced homocysteine levels by 25% compared to a placebo.
The recommended daily intake of vitamin B12 for adults is 2.4 mcg. However, some people may require higher doses due to certain health conditions or a vegan or vegetarian diet, which can be low in vitamin B12. It's important to speak with a healthcare professional before starting any vitamin B12 supplementation.
Vitamin B12 is an important nutrient for brain health, and supplementation can help alleviate the symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. If you're worried about your brain's health or have a family history of neurodegenerative diseases, consult with a doctor to see if vitamin B12 supplementation is right for you.
Obeid R, Fedosov SN, Nexo E. Cobalamin coenzyme forms are not likely to be superior to cyano- and hydroxyl-cobalamin in prevention or treatment of cobalamin deficiency. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2015;59(7):1364-1372. doi:10.1002/mnfr.201500058
Smith AD, Refsum H. Vitamin B-12 and cognition in the elderly. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;89(2):707S-711S. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2008.26947ABSTRACT
Refsum H, Smith AD. Homocysteine, B vitamins, and cognitive impairment. Annu Rev Nutr. 2018;38:113-136. doi:10.1146/annurev-nutr-082117-051613
Vitamin B12 Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Vitamin