Research has found that daily Vitamin B intake from middle age could protect your memory as you grow older, dramatically slowing the onset of memory loss in old age and even protecting against Alzheimer's disease.
Speaking at the British Science Festival, Dr Celeste de Jager said “A lot of the time brain changes start in your forties and fifties before you get clinical symptoms. I would think that in middle age people should start thinking about their vitamin levels”
In a trial, researchers recruited 270 pensioners ages 70+ who suffered from memory lapses, also known as Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). They were asked to take either a Vitamin B tablet once a day for a year or given a placebo. The tablets contained high levels of B vitamins, up to 300 times higher than the levels found in Vitamin B rich foods such as Bananas, wholegrain and meat.
The treatment targeted a compound in the blood stream called homocysteine, produced naturally by the body, which reaches higher levels in old age. The compound damages the lining of blood vessels leading to shrinkage of the brain which can result in the onset of Alzheimer’s as well as heart disease and a stroke.
At several points in the study participants were given simple verbal memory tasks in which they had to learn a list of 12 words and recall them 20 minutes later.
Results showed that those with higher than average levels of homocysteine, who took vitamin B, performed almost 70% better in the memory tasks than those who took the placebo. In addition, those with the very highest levels of homocysteine, who took Vitamin B, were less likely to progress towards Alzheimer’s with some cases showing a reduction in memory lapses altogether after two years.
Scans of patients’ brains showed that Vitamin B reduced brain shrinkage, a physical symptom associated with forgetfulness often leading to Alzheimer’s disease, by an average of 30% reaching 50% in some patients with particularly high homocysteine levels.
These results indicate that “the higher the homocysteine level in the blood, the better the response was on treatment” Dr Celeste de Jager said, before adding that more research is needed to show an actual delay in the decline to dementia.
Researcher Professor David Smith has termed the effects of Vitamin B as “striking”, but adds that while those in middle age could benefit from the treatment, individuals should always seek doctors’ advice.