B-Vitamins May Help Reduce Alzheimer’s Risk in Long Run

Harry Elwardt, N.D., PhD

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Job Title / Position: Naturopathic Doctor, Master Herbalist, Certified Nutritional Counselor

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A special combination of folic acid and vitamins B-6 and B-12 appears to slow brain atrophy in elderly patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a factor that could play a role in helping stifle the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

At least that’s the hope following the release of a new study from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.

Published in the journal Public Library of Science One (PLoS ONE), the study looked at homocysteine levels in participants, which in turn have an effect on brain atrophy, which in turn plays a role in Alzheimer’s.

Researchers opened their study stating: “In the elderly, the brain shows significant progressive atrophy. The atrophy occurs even in cognitively healthy subjects but is much accelerated in patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. An intermediate rate of atrophy is found in people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Since the rate of brain atrophy is more rapid in subjects with MCI who convert to Alzheimer’s disease, it is important to identify factors that determine the rate of atrophy since reducing the rate of atrophy is likely to slow the conversion to Alzheimer’s disease. One such factor appears to be raised concentrations of plasma total homocysteine. Moderately elevated concentrations of homocysteine have been associated with an increased risk of dementia, notably Alzheimer’s disease, in many cross-section and prospective studies. Raised homocysteine is also associated with both regional and whole brain atrophy, not only in Alzheimer’s disease, but also in healthy elderly.”

Atrophy, or wasting in the brain, is a common symptom of mild cognitive impairment and can be an early warning sign of dementia. One important factor determining the rate of atrophy appears to be raised concentrations of homocysteine in the blood.

Previously, epidemiological studies have reported that high levels of homocysteine are associated with suspected or confirmed dementia. In fact, The Framingham Study reported that people with homocysteine levels above 14 micromoles per liter of serum had twice the risk of dementia.

Tissue and plasma concentrations of homocysteine are known to be determined by vitamin B status, as they are cofactors for enzymes involved in homocysteine metabolism.

The recent study followed 168 participants over two years. Participants were randomly assigned to two groups of equal size. The first group was treated with a European drug called TrioBe Plus®, a combination of folic acid and vitamins B-6 and B-12 [folic acid (0.8 mg/d), vitamin B-12 (0.5 mg/d) and vitamin B-6 (20 mg/d)]. The second group received a placebo. Researchers found that those taking the vitamin combo had on average 29.6% less brain shrinkage. The B-vitamin treatment also reduced homocysteine by 22.5%.

The authors concluded that “The accelerated rate of brain atrophy in elderly people with mild cognitive impairment can be slowed by treatment with homocysteine-lowering B vitamins. Sixteen percent of those over 70 years old have mild cognitive impairment and half of these develop Alzheimer’s disease. Since accelerated brain atrophy is a characteristic of subjects with mild cognitive impairment who convert to Alzheimer’s disease, trials are needed to see if the same treatment will delay the development of Alzheimer’s disease.”