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B Vitamins Slow the Rate of Mild Cognitive Impairment

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is an intermediate stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and the more pronounced decline of dementia. It involves problems with memory, language, thinking and judgment that are greater than typical age-related changes. Mild cognitive impairment increases the risk of later developing dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, especially when the main difficulty is with memory. But some people with mild cognitive impairment never get worse, and a few eventually get better.

Folic acid is a member of the water-soluble B vitamin group. Isolated in 1946 from spinach leaves, its name comes from folium, the Latin word for leaf. In the body, folic acid is converted to a more biologically active form.

Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, contains the heavy metal cobalt, which gives this water-soluble vitamin its red color. Vitamin B12 is essential for growth and plays a role in metabolism within cells, especially those of the gastrointestinal tract, bone marrow and nervous tissue.

Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, is a water soluble vitamin that is instrumental in more than 100 enzyme reactions in the body. These activities are mostly related to the metabolism of amino acids and proteins.

Recent research has found that B vitamins appear to slow the rate of brain atrophy in elderly people with mild cognitive impairment. The randomized, double-blind controlled trial included 271 individuals over the age of 70 years with mild cognitive impairment. A subset of the group also agreed to have cranial MRI scans at the start and end of the study to determine brain atrophy. The study participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups, one treated with very high doses of folic acid, B6 and B12 and the other group received placebo. In total, 168 participants completed the MRI part of the trial. It was found that on average the brains of those taking the vitamin treatment shrank at a rate of 0.76 percent a year, while those taking the placebo pill had an average brain shrinkage of 1.08 percent. Researchers also discovered that participants with the highest levels of homocysteine (a risk factor for brain atrophy, cognitive impairment and dementia) benefited the most from the treatment with their brains shrinking at half the rate of those taking the placebo. Even though the trial objective was not designed to measure cognitive ability, it was found that people who had lowest rates of shrinkage also had the highest scores in mental tests. While these results are very promising, the researches noted that the dosages of B vitamins used in this study were extremely high and further research and studies will be needed before any changes should be implemented in clinical practice.1

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This article was published on Sunday October 03, 2010.
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Smith AD, Smith SM, de Jager CA, et al. Homocysteine-Lowering by B Vitamins Slows the Rate of Accelerated Brain Atrophy in Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Randomized Controlled Trial. PloS One. Sep2010.