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B Vitamins for Better Brains

As the baby boomer generation ages, awareness of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and poor cognitive function is progressively increasing. Over 4 million Americans currently suffer from AD, and the disease is beginning to cause a significant strain on the healthcare system. There are no effective medications to treat AD or dementia, so the rates are predicted to continue to progress over the next several decades. Our best hope for slowing the rates of dementia and AD is to focus seriously on prevention, as reversing cognitive impairment is a far more challenging task as compared to taking steps to maintain a healthy brain.

A few lifestyle factors seem to be related to good cognitive health. Despite marital challenges, having a spouse has been shown to reduce the risk of dementia by as much as 50%. No worries if you’re single; simply take action to maintain a healthy social life and have frequent interactions with people to challenge your brain. Consistent physical exercise is also recommended to prevent metabolic syndrome and obesity; research has shown that people with metabolic syndrome have lower scores on cognitive tests then people who are healthy.

Diet and supplements are also important. For example, B vitamins have proven to help prevent cognitive decline. B-12 preserves brain function, and deficiency of this vitamin is associated with an increased risk of confusion, depression, memory challenges, and abnormal nerve function. Some studies have found that patients with Alzheimer’s Disease have lower levels of B-12 than their same-aged healthy counterparts. Folic acid, another B vitamin, has been shown to have similar brain protecting activity. Low folic acid levels have been associated with dementia, depression, and poor memory and concentration.

B vitamins are without a doubt important to preventing dementia and AD. But at what age should we start being aware of our B vitamin intake?

As it turns out, waiting until we are older adults may really be too late. A new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at data from a large study called “CARDIA”, the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study. In the study, they collected data from men and women aged 18- 30 years old, and monitored their dietary intake of food and supplements. After 25 years, they were tested to assess various facets of their cognitive function. It was found that the participants with the highest intake of B vitamins had significantly higher scores on the cognitive tests as compared to the people who had the lowest intake of B vitamins in their youth.

The important message here is that it is never too early to be focused on preventing dementia. You can increase your B vitamin intake by consuming animal products, including eggs, and nutritional yeast, and cheeses. Also, some foods like cereal and bread are fortified with B vitamins. You can also take a B- complex vitamin which contains all the B vitamins, to be assured that you are getting enough.

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2012 Aug;60(8):1457-64
Am J Clin Nutr October 2017, vol. 106 no. 4 1032-1040

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