Older people with low blood levels of vitamin B12 markers may be more likely to have lower brain volumes and have problems with their thinking skills, according to a study published this week in the journal Neurology.
Vitamin B 12 is found naturally only in animal foods - meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products. It's also added to plant based beverages (soy, rice, almond) and some soy products.
The study involved 121 people, over the age of 65, living in Chicago. They had blood drawn to measure levels of vitamin B12 and B12-related markers that can indicate a B12 deficiency. The same subjects took tests measuring their memory and other cognitive skills.
An average of four-and-a-half years later, MRI scans of the participants' brains were taken to measure total brain volume and look for other signs of brain damage.
Having high levels of four of five markers for vitamin B12 deficiency was associated with having lower scores on the cognitive tests and smaller total brain volume.
It's too early to say whether increasing vitamin B12 levels in older people through diet or supplements could prevent these problems, but findings from an earlier study on B vitamin supplementation found similar outcomes.
The researchers noted that the level of vitamin B12 itself in the blood was not associated with cognitive problems or loss in brain volume. She said that low vitamin B12 can be difficult to detect in older people when looking only at blood levels of the vitamin.
These findings suggest that poor vitamin B12 status is a potential risk factor for brain atrophy and may contribute to cognitive impairment.
It is recommended that adults over 50 get vitamin B12 from a supplement or fortified foods.
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