Researchers advise that B vitamins are crucial for brain health. Since 2003, these nutrients have been the focus of studies on Alzheimer’s disease. Here’s how B vitamins affect cognition and how to use this knowledge to help your senior loved one.
Brain-Boosting B Vitamins
Eight members comprise the B vitamin family, each playing a vital part in sustaining the human nervous system. Of these eight nutrients, five are found to slow cognitive loss. Below are their primary roles regarding brain function:
- B1 – Nerve cells use this vitamin for growth, maintenance, and repair. B1 fuels the brain by converting the carbohydrates in food to energy.
- B3 – This nutrient mends damaged genetic codes while producing hormones and enzymes.
- B6 – Red blood cells need this vitamin to make hemoglobin, a protein the cells use to transport oxygen through the blood. B6 also produces chemical messengers called neurotransmitters that affect brain function and moods.
- Folate – Like B6, folate assists with red blood cell production. Folate enhances concentration and recall by speeding cell division and maintaining nerve tissue. Folic acid, the synthetic form of this vitamin, is added to food and supplements because it’s more stable than folate.
- B12 – Of particular merit for Alzheimer’s disease, B12 rids blood of homocysteine, a protein that damages blood vessels by inflaming, narrowing, and hardening them. This condition, called atherosclerosis, impedes blood flow to the brain. Poor circulation allows beta-amyloid proteins to accumulate, causing brain cell degeneration.
The days, weeks, and months following an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be challenging for both seniors and their families. However, these challenges can be made less stressful with the help of caregivers trained in professional Alzheimer’s care. Pembroke Pines Home Care Assistance is here to help your loved one enjoy the golden years while simultaneously managing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
In 2003, university scientists conducted a pilot study on how B vitamins affect Alzheimer’s disease. The research involved 400 early-stage and mid-stage subjects who were randomly assigned placebos or high doses of B6, folic acid, and B12.
Participants taking the B vitamins had a marked reduction in their homocysteine levels. This finding is significant, as elevated homocysteine is a biological marker of Alzheimer’s progression. The study, performed at Georgetown University Medical Center, was published in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.
Slower Brain Shrinkage
One early sign of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is brain atrophy or shrinkage. Statistics show that roughly 50 percent of seniors with MCI develop Alzheimer’s within five years of their initial diagnosis.
In 2010, Oxford University researchers sought to determine whether B vitamins can decelerate brain shrinkage in seniors with MCI, thereby forestalling Alzheimer’s. This study consisted of 168 adults aged 70 and above with MCI. Over two years on a daily basis, half the subjects received high-dose B6, folic acid, and B12. The other half took a placebo tablet. MRI scans tracked the rate of brain shrinkage.
Amazingly, compared to the placebo group, the speed of brain atrophy was cut by 30 percent in those on B vitamins and by 53 percent in those who also had high homocysteine. Slower brain atrophy also correlated with better scores on cognitive tests.
The scientists concluded that lowering homocysteine is key to delaying gray matter loss and the progression of MCI to Alzheimer’s disease. The study results were published in PLOS ONE. Additional research conducted in 2013, 2017, and 2018 confirms these findings.
In 2008, animal studies at the University of California, Irvine, showed that high-dose B3 in the form of nicotinamide slowed memory loss in a disease similar to Alzheimer’s. B3 was found to repair DNA harmed by neurodegeneration, resulting in slower cognitive decline. The findings were recorded in the Journal of Neuroscience.
B Vitamin Shortfalls
Frequently, adults over the age of 50 are prone to vitamin deficiencies traced to dietary factors, impaired digestion, and age-related changes. For example, your loved one may have a B vitamin deficiency if he or she doesn’t eat well. Poor appetite is common in seniors and is linked to dwindling taste buds and neurotransmitters that prompt the desire to eat.
Nutrient assimilation is further impaired by digestive disorders, such as gastritis, Crohn’s disease, and celiac disease. Malabsorption can also result from taking antacids, diabetic medications, and high-dose diuretics. Since B vitamins are water-soluble and lost through urine, your loved one needs to replenish them daily.
Signs of B vitamin deficiency include anemia, fatigue, difficulty focusing, short-term memory loss, irritability, muscle cramps, abdominal pain, eczema, hair loss, anxiety, depression, and tingling in the hands and feet.
The entire B vitamin family includes B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, folate, biotin, and B12 working synchronously to maintain the nervous system. To help your loved one get the full daily quota, serve these optimal foods:
- Beverages – fortified nondairy milks
- Fruits – cantaloupe, bananas, oranges
- Legumes – peas, chickpeas, tofu, hummus, beans
- Vegetables – mushrooms, sweet potatoes, asparagus, broccoli, spinach, potatoes, turnips
- Grains – whole-grain breads, oatmeal, brown rice, fortified cereals, enriched white rice
- Protein sources – eggs, fish, dairy, fortified soy products
- Nuts – peanuts, walnuts, almonds
- Seeds – sunflower
A trained professional caregiver can prepare nutritious meals and encourage your loved one to engage in cognition-boosting exercises. There are many reasons seniors might need assistance at home. Some may require regular mental stimulation due to an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, while others might only need part-time assistance with exercise and basic household tasks. Home Care Assistance is a leading Pembroke Pines home care service provider. Families rely on our expertly trained caregivers to help their senior loved ones maintain a high quality of life.
Along with providing B-rich meals, consider giving your loved one a B-complex supplement that meets the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for each vitamin. Note that if your loved one follows a vegan or vegetarian diet, he or she should take synthetic B12 in the form of a supplement or fortified foods. Plants are poor sources of this nutrient.
To be absorbed, B12 requires digestive acid. Seniors are often B12 deficient, since gastric acid production decreases with age. Assimilation is further compromised if your loved one takes antacids or diabetic medication.
Here are some caveats regarding supplementation:
- While Alzheimer’s studies feature high B intake, adhere to RDI guidelines. Although these nutrients are water-soluble, megadoses can render harmful side effects. For your loved one’s safety, before giving a B-complex supplement, obtain clearance from his or her primary care provider. Blood testing can identify specific vitamin shortfalls.
- If the doctor approves supplementation, choose a formula not exceeding 400 mcg of folic acid, the RDI limit. High doses of folic acid can trigger a B12 deficiency that isn’t detected by blood work.
- If your loved one is on anti-seizure medication, avoid folic acid supplementation entirely, since it can provoke seizures.
If your loved one finds it challenging to get the necessary amount of vitamins and nutrients every day, consider bringing in a trained professional caregiver to help. Not every senior has the same care needs, which means they don’t all need the same type of home care. Pembroke Pines families can rely on Home Care Assistance to provide individualized care plans to meet your elderly loved one’s unique care needs. Our holistic Balanced Care Method was designed to help seniors focus on healthy lifestyle habits such as eating nutritious foods, exercising regularly, and maintaining strong social ties, and our Cognitive Therapeutics Method offers mentally stimulating activities that can stave off cognitive decline and delay the onset of dementia. Call Home Care Assistance today at (954) 374-8273 to learn about our high-quality in-home care services.