Mild vitamin B12 deficiency linked to accelerated cognitive decline

December 7, 2012 in Nutrition for Older Adults, Nutrition Topics in the News, Vitamins, Minerals, Supplements

Mild vitamin B12 deficiency linked to accelerated cognitive decline

Being mildly vitamin B12 deficient could be an indication that some older adults are at a greater risk for accelerated cognitive decline, a study from the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (USDA HNRCA) at Tufts University suggests.

The researchers examined data from 549 men and women enrolled in a cohort of the Framingham Heart Study, focusing on scores on the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), a short list of questions and tasks commonly used to screen for dementia. The subjects were divided into five groups, based on their vitamin B12 blood levels.

Being in the two lowest B12 groups was associated with significantly accelerated cognitive decline, based on an analysis of test scores from 5 MMSE tests given over a period of eight years. The average age at the beginning of the study was 75 years old.

Men and women in the second lowest B12 group did not fare any better in terms of cognitive decline than those with the lowest vitamin B12 blood levels. Over time, their MMSE scores declined just as rapidly.

Rapid cognitive decline is a well known consequence of severe vitamin B12 deficiency, but these findings suggest that adverse cognitive effects of low vitamin B12 status may affect a much larger proportion of seniors than previously thought.

The subjects in this study were mostly Caucasian women who had earned at least a high school diploma. The authors said future research might include more diverse populations and explore whether vitamin B12 status impacts particular cognitive skills, as the MMSE results provide only a general picture of decline.

The researchers stated, "While...our study does not show causation, our associations raise the concern that some cognitive decline may be the result of inadequate vitamin B-12 in older adults, for whom maintaining normal blood levels can be a challenge."

Animal proteins, such as lean meats, poultry and eggs, are good sources of vitamin B-12. Because older adults may have a hard time absorbing vitamin B-12 from food, it is recommended that people over 50 years-old get their B-12 from fortified foods or a supplement (e.g. multivitamin).

SOURCE: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society

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