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Insufficient Vitamin B12 may be linked to memory problems in older people

THE QUESTION:Does Vitamin B12, known for its aid in making red blood cells and DNA, play a role in memory and cognition skills in older people?

THIS STUDY: Analyzed data on 112 men and women 65 and older (average age, 79) who were given a battery of 17 tests of their memory and other cognitive skills; had blood drawn and were tested for five markers that reflect the presence of Vitamin B12; and were given an MRI scan to assess their brain volume, or size. Those whose blood indicated a Vitamin B12 deficiency, based on high levels of four of the five markers, also had lower scores on the memory and cognitive tests and smaller brain volumes.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Older people, who sometimes become deficient in Vitamin B12 because their stomachs can no longer absorb the nutrient as it occurs naturally in foods. To counter this, health experts suggest that they eat fortified foods (such as cereals) or take a dietary supplement because the stomach generally can still absorb the vitamin in those forms. Most people younger than 50 get plenty of B12 from their diets. It’s present in meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy products; beef liver and clams are considered the best sources of Vitamin B12.

CAVEATS: The study involved a fairly small number of people. It did not test whether increasing Vitamin B12 levels would improve people’s memory and cognitive ability.

FIND THIS STUDY: Sept. 27 issue of Neurology (www.neurology.org).

LEARN MORE ABOUT:Vitamin B12 at www.ods.od.nih.gov. Learn about memory loss with aging at www.familydoctor.org.

Linda Searing

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.

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