Did you know vitamin B12 is critical for brain function? When you don’t have enough of this essential vitamin — found in foods such as beef, fish and dairy products — you may start to experience mental decline, such as memory issues or depression.
For example, a study published in the journal Neurology linked vitamin B12 deficiency to brain shrinkage and memory problems in older adults. And another study done at the University of Oxford found that high doses of vitamin B12 were able to reduce brain shrinkage among older adults with cognitive impairment who had a B12 deficiency.
In fact, “a B12 vitamin deficiency as a cause of cognitive issues is more common than we think,” said Dr. Rajaprabhakaran Rajarethinam, a psychiatrist at Wayne State University School of Medicine, “especially among the elderly who live alone and don’t eat properly.” He added that depression, dementia and mental impairment are often associated with a deficiency in vitamin B12 as well as in fellow B-vitamin folate.
As an example, he described a 66-year-old woman who was hospitalized with severe depression, psychosis, and loss of energy and interest in life who had very low vitamin B12 blood levels, and whose symptoms were almost entirely reversed with vitamin B12 injections, The New York Times reported.
So the vitamin B12 and brain link is clear. Now what do we do about it?
You can be proactive and ensure you are getting enough vitamin B12 in your diet. But that’s not all. You see, vitamin B12 deficiency is often an issue of absorption. What’s the point of eating enough B12 if you aren’t able to absorb and use it?
In order to absorb B12 from your foods, you need to have enough stomach acid, the enzyme pepsin, and a gastric protein called intrinsic factor to release the vitamin from the food protein it is attached to, The Times reported. Then, your small intestine can absorb the B12. However, as you age, your stomach’s acid-producing cells may not work as well (this is called atrophic gastritis). You can also experience thinning of the stomach lining as you age.
Additionally, some prescription medications, such as those used to treat heartburn, stomach ulcers and Type 2 diabetes, can limit vitamin B12 absorption, said Christine Tangney, associate professor of clinical nutrition at Rush University Medical Center and study author of the Neurology study, to AARP.
In fact, the Neurology study pointed to another issue as well — diagnosing a B12 deficiency can be tricky. All of the study participants had B12 blood levels in the normal range, though some did have higher levels of other biomarkers indicating B12 deficiency.
So what does all of this mean?
Get tested for a vitamin B12 deficiency. Depending on your symptoms, you may need a comprehensive test that checks all vitamin and mineral levels.
If you are deficient, ask a knowledgeable health care professional for recommendations on how best to address the deficiency (injections or oral supplement, what dose, and for how long?).
Also ask a health care professional to help you determine whether you have barriers to absorption (medications, age, lack of stomach acid/enzyme/gastric protein) and how those can be addressed.
Now that you have a good understanding of vitamin B12, you may want to also understand vitamin B3. It also is one of the B-complex vitamins, and there are three types: niacin, niacinamide and inositol hexaniacinate (also called “no flush niacin”). Niacin is important for your digestive system, skin and nervous system. It helps make sex hormones and stress-related hormones. Click here to continue reading.