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Everybody knows that Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that occurs among the elderly, but did you know that severe memory loss from vitamin B12 deficiency can happen, regardless of your age? Find out how vitamin B12 deficiency affects brain health.
What is dementia?
Dementia is a brain disorder that causes you to lose thinking skills like memory, reasoning, language, and social awareness. Dementia is a progressive condition- the symptoms of dementia only worsen with time.
Degenerative dementia is permanent, meaning that the brain damage that caused dementia is irreversible. Still, some kinds of dementia can be reversed if caught in time; such is the case with a brain tumor.
Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most notable types of degenerative dementia.
Short-term memory loss: While dementia patients don’t usually have difficulty remembering things from their childhood with crystal-clear vision, they are likely to forget messages, conversations, or doctor’s appointments from the previous day…or hour.
Moodiness: Alzheimer’s disease patients may shift through moods in the blink of an eye- one minute content, the next minute expressing deep anger, and rage. Paranoia and depression are common traits of elderly individuals suffering from dementia. Often, people with dementia lose interest in things like hobbies and social clubs that they used to enjoy. In some cases, they may become antisocial and exhibit bad behavior in public.
Difficulty communicating: People with dementia tend to have circular conversations, immediately forgetting what they spoke of a moment ago, and returning to the same topic. They also have trouble recalling everyday words, as their vocabulary skills have decreased significantly.
Decreased perception skills: Dementia patients have great difficulty understanding new or foreign concepts.
Inability to multi-task
Cognitive decline: Senior citizens with dementia have trouble thinking abstractly, figuring amounts, and using logic.
As there are many different types of dementia, there are also various causes and correlations, as well.
Stroke (Vascular dementia)
Dementia with Lewy bodies
Progressive supranuclear palsy
Vitamin B12 deficiency (Pernicious anemia)
Certain cholesterol-lowering medications
How do doctors diagnose dementia?
If your doctor suspects dementia, he will have to review the patient’s medical history and order various physical exams before he diagnoses dementia. Additionally, any underlying medical conditions that may contribute to dementia symptoms will be reviewed, such as low levels of vitamin B12 or history of depression.
The most common tests used to diagnose dementia are:
Neurological exam (mental status examination)
MRI brain scan
Vitamin B12 blood test
Ammonia blood test
Blood chemistry test
Toxicology screening for alcohol
Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis
Treatments for dementia
Depending on the cause of dementia, your physician might prescribe one of the following treatments for dementia:
Vitamin B12 supplements, if vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms are the cause of dementia.
Acetyl cholinesterase inhibitor, for dementia with Lewy bodies
Vitamin B12 deficiency can start with a few symptoms like tiredness and slight tingling or numbness in hands and feet; ignore the symptoms and low B12 levels could escalate into severe nerve damage, disease or death.
What are the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency?
Below is a list of some of the most common side effects which may arise from insufficient stores of vitamin B12.
(Please note that the severity of the symptoms may vary according to the stage of B12 deficiency.)
Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble nutrient. Therefore, your body is only able to store it for a short time. Vitamin B12 has many important functions in your body.
Vitamin B12 is essential for producing plenty of healthy red blood cells and for synthesizing DNA. A lack of B12 severely reduces your body’s ability to make sufficient red blood cells for carrying oxygen throughout your body.
Pernicious anemiais a life-threatening condition that is often the cause of vitamin B12 deficiency.
Your nervous system is dependent on vitamin B12, which enhances communication between the brain and your many nerve sensors, such as those in your fingertips, feet and mouth. This explains why sufferers of B12 deficiency notice a sensation similar to wearing gloves throughout the day; others report that their food tastes unusual, another clue that the body’s neurons are not operating correctly.
A deficiency of vitamin B12 compromises your nervous system and could result in permanent neurological damage.
Researchers have found a direct link between vitamin B12 deficiency and brain atrophy among the elderly. In one study which appeared in the Journal of Nutrition, senior citizens who had the highest levels of B12 experienced healthier cognitive functioning skills.
Vitamin B12 helps your body monitor already healthy homocysteine levels, a factor in heart health.
What diseases are associated with B12 deficiency?
There are many illnesses which occur when B12 levels are low; some conditions may be caused by vitamin B12 deficiency, while others are closely correlated. Below are some common illnesses associated with B12 deficiency, including many which most people don’t realize are affected by vitamin B12 levels.
Alzheimer’s disease, brain deterioration, cognitive decline, memory loss and other forms of dementia
Neurological diseases such as Multiple sclerosis (MS)
Cardiovascular disease, caused by high homocysteine levels
Mental illness, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and psychosis
Autism spectrum disorder
Autoimmune diseases, such as AIDS and pernicious anemia
According to aTufts University study, 40 percent of people between the ages of 26 and 83 have low to medium-low B12 levels, indicating a deficiency severe enough to cause neurological disorder symptoms, while 9 percent are depleted enough to the point of irreversible neurological damage and life-threatening symptoms. Approximately 16 percent are close to becoming vitamin B12 deficient.
Why is vitamin B12 deficiency overlooked?
Only a blood test can properly determine if somebody is suffering from B12 deficiency, and most physicians don’t include a B12 screening with yearly check-ups. Also, many of the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency are similar to common health disorders, such as diabetes, chronic depression and fatigue.
How can you get enough B12?
Vitamin B12 is found in many high protein foods. Excellent sources of B12 are:
Lean beef cuts, such as chuck and sirloin
Fish, particularly salmon, tuna and halibut
Shellfish, including crab meat, mussels, clams and oysters
Dairy products, such as swiss cheese, yogurt, milk and cottage cheese
Vegans are at a high risk for developing vitamin B12 deficiency, as their diet specifically excludes food items which provide vitamin B12. Other people who are at risk of getting B12 deficiency are patients of weight loss surgery, diabetics on metformin, individuals with gastrointestinal disease, people who lackintrinsic factorand anybody taking prescription heartburn medication.
The only way to prevent becoming deficient in vitamin B12 is by constantly replenishing your body with B12-rich nutrients.
Alternatively, patients diagnosed with vitamin B12 deficiency are encouraged to take vitamin B12 supplements, such as sublingual B12 tablets, B12 shots, or over-the-counter (OTC) vitamin B12.
Find more information on preventing vitamin B12 deficiency:
A study published by the European Journal of Neurology revealed evidence linking adult attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and a form of dementia which is similar to Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. According to research collected by scientists in Argentina, adults with ADHD have a threefold chance of developing dementia with lewy bodies (DLB) in their old age.
Similar to Parkinson’s disease, dementia with lewy bodies occurs when bits of protein remnants develop inside the nerve cells, interrupting the flow of brain activity.
Argentinian researchers studied 251 Alzheimer’s patients, 109 DLB patients, and a control group of 149 healthy senior citizens.
48% of lewy body dementia patients had ADHD previously in their adulthood.
15% of senior citizens with Alzheimer’s have never suffered from adult ADHD.
10% of dementia cases among the elderly are attributed to dementia with lewy bodies, although they are often misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease.
Symptoms of dementia with lewy bodies include realistic hallucinations, fluctuations in mental and physical skills, and spastic movements similar to those in Parkinson’s patients.
Scientists have long suspected a correlation between the neurotransmitter activity witnessed in adult patients with ADHD and that of senior citizens suffering dementia with lewy bodies.
Dr. Angel Golimstok, author of the Januarry European Journal of Neurology report, says,“We believe that our study is the first of its kind to examine the clinical association between adult ADHD symptoms and DLB and that it has established a clear link between the two conditions.”
There’s no running away from old age, but you might be able to run it off; that’s what scientists are saying about reducing the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.
A study, published in 2011 by the National Academy of Sciences, proves that aerobic exercise may reverse the shrinking of the hippocampus, the part of our brain essential for memory retention and learning, in our old age.
Conducted by Arthur Kramer, director of the Beckman Institute and professor of neuroscience at the University of Illinois, this surprising research also concludes that memory can be improved through regular aerobic exercise.
Aerobic exercise is defined by the National Institute of Health (NIH) as any activity which includes “repetitive movement of large muscle groups” and gets its power source from fresh supplies of oxygen.
The study followed 120 American senior citizens between the ages of 50-80. Half of the participants were assigned an aerobic exercise regimen 3 times per week aimed at helping them reach their target high rate; the other half were given instruction in yoga and other stretching exercises. MRI scanning of both groups revealed the following results:
Over the course of one year, the senior citizens who did regular aerobic exercise 3 times per week increased the size of their hippocampus by 2%.
The group who practiced stretching and muscle toning but did not reach their target heart rate showed a decrease in hippocampus size by 1.4%.
These findings overwhelmingly prove that the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia can be reduced or reversed by an aerobic exercise fitness regimen, even into old age.
Do you speak more than one language? A recent study shows that multilingualism is healthy for the brain.
Psychologist Ellen Bialystok of York University, Toronto recently conducted a study which focused on patients of Alzheimer’s disease. Out of the 450 test subjects, approximately half were bilingual, while the other half only spoke their Mother tongue.
The bilingual patients of Alzheimer’s suffered the same symptoms of brain deterioration as the patients who spoke only one language. However, the onset of Alzheimer’s began 4-5 years later in life for the patients who were fluent in two languages than it did for the senior citizens who were only raised with one.
Dr. Bialystok explained it like this: the ability to speak fluently in more than one language enabled one focus group of seniors to cope with the symptoms of Alzheimer’s better than the test subjects who did not have the advantage of multi-language fluency. As a result, bilingual Alzheimer’s patients who are in the onset of the disease tend to be about 5 years older than early-stage patients who have been exposed to only one language.
Her findings were presented at a meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science and was published in Neurology, 11/09/10.
Researchers believe that bilingual patients of Alzheimer’s are more functional than monolingual patients because of a difference in their brain makeup. The ability to speak more than one language stems from a skill which employs the executive control system or our brains; because bilingual people exercise that brain function more often they are less likely to succumb to the symptoms of dementia.
The executive control center of the brain is essential for the following skills:
“It’s not that being bilingual prevents the disease,” explains Bialystok. “Instead, it allows those who develop Alzheimer’s to deal with it better.”
It’s being hailed as a medical breakthrough: scientists have discovered a way to use a PET brain scan to detect the beginnings of Alzheimer’s disease as early as twenty years before any symptoms arise.
Currently, the only way to accurately diagnosis Alzheimer’s is posthumously, via autopsy. But an innovative new brain scan will make it possible to detect the warning signs, clusters of proteins called amyloid plaque, and begin the process of treating the disease immediately.
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), a radioactive dye called Amyvid is used as a magnet for amyloid plaque; once injected into the arm it attaches itself to the destructive protein. High levels of Amyvid, when picked up on a PET scan, indicate a strong likeliness that somebody will develop Alzheimer’s disease later in life.
While having a high level of Amyvid does not guarantee the presence of Alzheimer’s- approximately 30% of subjects with high Amyvid will never develop any form of dementia- low Amyvid levels may be used to negate that possibility.
Scientists have also linked a correlation between vitamin b12 deficiency and Alzheimer’s disease. A Finnish study which followed 271 senior citizens found that elderly test subjects with sufficiently high levels of vitamin b12 and proportionately low traces of homocysteine (an amino acid linked to dementia, stroke and heart disease) were the least likely of all to suffer Alzheimer’s disease.
B12 deficiency is common among the aging; physicians recommend a regular regimen of vitamin b12 supplementation in order to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s or diminish the symptoms where dementia has already been established.