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Vitamin B12 Prevents Natural Loss of Brain Volume in Elderly

According to a study by Anna Vogiatzoglou, MSc with the University of Oxford, Vitamin B12, a nutrient found in meat, fish and milk, may protect against natural loss of brain volume in the elderly. The study examined 107 people between the ages of 61 and 87, comparing B12 levels and brain volume between the two groups, revealing a positive correlation between higher B12 levels and a decrease in likelihood of brain shrinkage. Vitamin B12 levels were measured by brain scans, memory testing, lab diagnostics and physical exams and none of the participants showed a B12 deficiency. The brain scans and memory tests were also performed again five years later. The study found that people who had higher serum levels of vitamin B12 levels were six times less likely to experience brain shrinkage compared with those who had lower levels of the vitamin in their blood.

Previous research on the vitamin has had mixed results and few studies have been done specifically with brain scans in elderly populations. Along with the use of brain scans as a distinctive method of assessment, Vogiatzoglou tested for vitamin B12 levels in a unique, more accurate way by examining two specific serum B12 markers. Though the study measured the effect of B12 levels on brain volume, it did not examine whether taking vitamin B12 supplements would have the same effect on memory.

Many factors that affect brain health are thought to be out of our control, but this study suggests that simply adjusting our diets to consume more vitamin B12 through eating meat, fish, fortified cereals or milk may be something we can easily adjust to prevent brain shrinkage and so perhaps save our memory,² said Vogiatzoglou. ³Research shows that vitamin B12 deficiency is a public health problem, especially among the elderly, so more vitamin B12 intake could help reverse this problem. Without carrying out a clinical trial, we acknowledge that it is still not known whether B12 supplementation would actually make a difference in elderly persons at risk for brain shrinkage.²

The study was supported by the UK Alzheimer's Research Trust, the Medical Research Council, the Charles Wolfson Charitable Trust, the Norwegian Foundation for Health and Rehabilitation through the Norwegian Health Association, Axis-Shield plc and the Johan Throne Holst Foundation for Nutrition Research. The research was part of the program of the Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Aging at the University of Oxford.


Published in the September 9, 2008, issue of Neurology®, the medical journal
of the American Academy of Neurology.

Key concepts: Vitamin B12, brain health, alzheimers