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New research reveals vitamin B12 deficiency causes the brain to shrink! Loss of brain size has been linked to decreased brain function, less energy, cognitive decline, and mood-related issues.1
Both Tufts University and results from the Framingham study report that at least 40% of the population is B12 deficient.17 Vegetarians, the elderly, and those on medications are at a much higher risk. So let’s make sure you don’t wake up one day with a shrunken brain!
Protect Your Brain with B12
A recent study reveals vitamin B12 may protect against brain shrinkage as we age.1 The study measured 107 people ages 61-87 for five years with brain scans and MRIs.
The study found that people who had higher vitamin B12 levels were less likely to experience brain shrinkage compared with those with lower levels. None in the study had clinical B12 deficiency.4 You do not have to be clinically deficient in B12 to see brain shrinkage! Even low B12 levels still in normal range can put you at risk.
In a three-year Swedish study of 370 healthy elderly adults at least 75, those with even slightly low levels of vitamin B12 and folate had twice the risk of cognitive and memory concerns as did those with normal levels.5
Why B12 Needs The Right Folate: 5-MTHF (5-Methyltetrahydrofolate)
When it comes to B vitamins, B12 plays the leading role, but to perform at the highest level, it requires the right kind of folate.
5-MTHF is the most biologically active form of folate. Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate and, while not harmful, it is not as effective as folate or 5-MTHF. It is the predominant type of folate present in food and the form into which the body must convert all other forms of folate. Along with B12, folate serves as a donor of methyl groups in many nervous system and metabolic processes, including conversion of homocysteine to methionine, synthesis of monoamine neurotransmitters, production of melatonin, and synthesis of DNA.18,19
In addition, red blood cells require vitamin B12 and folate for proliferation and manufacturing.20 B12 is also essential for neurological health, and chronic insufficiency can affect the spinal cord, peripheral nerves, the optic nerve, and the brain.21
Amazing B12 + Folate Studies
- Replacement of B vitamins in deficient individuals often quickly improves short-term memory and language skills. Elderly subjects low in folic acid show impairment in both word recall and object recall, suggesting a vital role for folic acid in memory function in later life.6
- Memory issues in the elderly related to B12 deficiency can effectively be supported by vitamin B12 injections or supplements.7
- High doses of folate reduce blood levels of homocysteine, a toxic buildup product linked to heart and cognitive concerns.8
- In elderly people with memory and cognitive concerns with even mild deficiencies of vitamin B12 or folate, supplementation can improve cognition,9 especially in those with elevated blood homocysteine levels.10
- In a study of 76 elderly males, vitamin B6, a co-factor for B12 and folate, was better than placebo in improving long-term information storage and retrieval.11
B12 Could Keep Your Heart Healthy
The most active form of B12 methylcobalamin, is essential for reducing homocysteine into methionine (a naturally occurring amino acid) through a process called methylation.
High levels of homocysteine are a well-known risk factor for heart concerns.14 B12, folate, and dietary B6 are required for this conversion, and they work in concert to lower homocysteine, support healthy arterial circulation, and fight mood concerns.15,16
Why Is B12 Such a Hassle To Digest?
B12 is great, but the problem is that it is a very large and difficult vitamin to digest. It requires an especially strong amount of stomach acid to release it from its protein source and is also needed to make another protein called intrinsic factor, which carriers B12 into the blood. In most people, stomach acid is too weak to be effective in this process.
If stomach acid is too weak or strong or if there is a history of digestive concerns or taking medications, there is a good chance of blocked production of intrinsic factor and absorption of B12, no matter how much is in the diet.
In addition, for B12 to be absorbed into the blood, villi of the small intestine must be healthy, which is rarely the case. This is one reason I write so many articles on how to boost digestive efficiency.
Vitamin B12 travels all the way through the small intestine and is absorbed just before it enters the large intestine. Along the way, B12 seems to engage in many biochemical processes that take place in the small intestine. While this is not yet fully understood, we do know that 95% of our serotonin is manufactured and stored in the intestines12 and that B12 is a precursor for these reactions. This may explain the vital role B12 plays in supporting mood and boosting energy.
In fact, in one study, moods were elevated by the combination of supplemental B12, B6, and folic acid.13
Dietary Vitamin B12
To recap, B12 is a challenging vitamin to assimilate and requires a very strong digestive system. If you do not tolerate wheat or dairy, it’s a good sign that you may be at risk of a B12 deficiency and possible brain shrinkage.
B12 is found mostly in protein from meat, dairy, and eggs. Vegetarians are at greater risk because they tend to eat proteins that have much less B12. Fermented foods like tempeh, miso, and sauerkraut are usually sources of B12, but are not reliable. Seaweeds, brewer’s yeast, spirulina, and chlorella are also good sources, but often are not ingested in sufficient amounts.
Vegetarians must be cautious and should prevent this risk with sublingual supplementation that takes B12 directly to the bloodstream and bypasses the digestive system, which may not be strong enough to absorb the amount of B12 needed to protect the brain.
How Do I Know If I Am Deficient in B12?
Getting an accurate reading from a blood test is tricky. B12 numbers in the lower end of normal range have been found to actually be deficient, suggesting B12 tests are not as reliable as we would like.17 To get a more accurate reading, one would need, in addition to a B12 test, a methylmalonic acid and homocysteine test, which are expensive.
Red Flags for B12 Deficiency
- Digestive issues
- History of medications
- Been vegan or vegetarian
- Brain fog
- Cognitive decline
Consider taking a B12 and 5-MTHF supplement like LifeSpa’s B12 Boost (one tablet twice a day for a month). If you feel a significant boost is mood and energy, then you were likely B12 deficient. Continue supplementation for three months. Then we must then address the underlying reason why you became B12 deficient, which may be diet- or digestion-related.
For years, B12 injections were trendy for boosting energy. New research shows sublingual (under-tongue) supplementation with methylcobalamin is just as effective and carries the added benefits of lower cost and ease of administration.22,23 Hooray!!! No more shots!
Perhaps the most common form of B12 on the market today is cyanocobalamin. While this is the most inexpensive form, it is not the most active. Cyanocobalamin must be converted to methylcobalamin, the more active and effective form of B12.
Have you tried sublingual B12 with 5-MTHF? What did you notice?