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Slightly lower blood levels of vitamin B12 connected to worsening of the decline in brain function in the elderly

Dec 14, 2012

Researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (USDA HNRCA) at Tufts University are the latest group to connect vitamin B12 to healthy brain aging. Martha Savaria Morris, Ph.D., an epidemiologist in the Nutrition Epidemiology Program at the HNRCA and colleagues examined data from 549 men and women enrolled in a cohort of the Framingham Heart Study, focusing on scores on the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE). The MMSE is a short list of questions and tasks used to screen for dementia. It is also used to estimate the severity of cognitive impairment and to follow the course of cognitive changes in an individual over time.The subjects were divided into five groups based on their vitamin B-12 blood levels. Being in the two lowest groups was associated with significantly accelerated cognitive decline, based on an analysis of test scores from 5 MMSE tests given over a period of eight years. The average age at baseline was 75 years-old.

Having even just a mild deficiency of vitamin B-12 deficient could be an indication that some older adults are at a greater risk for accelerated cognitive decline according to the data. Also "Men and women in the second lowest group did not fare any better in terms of cognitive decline than those with the worst vitamin B-12 blood levels. Over time, their MMSE scores declined just as rapidly," Dr. Morris said. "Rapid neuropsychiatric decline is a well-known consequence of severe vitamin B-12 deficiency, but our findings suggest that adverse cognitive effects of low vitamin B-12 status may affect a much larger proportion of seniors than previously thought." The study is published in the August 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.