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Could Too Little Vitamin B-12 Shrink the Aging Brain?
Date:9/26/2011

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Sept. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Too little vitamin B-12 may be associated with smaller brain size and more problems with thinking skills as people age, new research suggests.

And the number of people who suffer from B-12 deficiencies may be greater than thought because current methods for measuring levels of the vitamin may not be accurate, said Christine C. Tangney, lead author of the study published in the Sept. 27 issue of Neurology. The study was funded by the U.S. National Institute on Aging.

The researchers assessed the study participants' vitamin levels not only from B-12 levels themselves, but from blood metabolites that are considered markers of B-12 activity (or lack of it) in the tissues.

But the findings aren't nearly enough to start recommending people take B-12 supplements to jumpstart their brains, cautioned Dr. Marc L. Gordon, chief of neurology of Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y. Gordon was not involved with the study.

"It's not clear exactly if you have a measurement like this whether it's causal or that lowering the marker will drive a change in the risk," he said.

And unless you're a strict vegan, most people do get enough B-12, which is critical for brain health, from their diet -- mainly from animal-derived products, added Gordon, who is also an Alzheimer's researcher at The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, N.Y.

B-12 is critical for brain health but can become an issue as people get older because the body becomes less able to absorb it. Also, certain drugs can affect absorption. These include proton pump inhibitors, widely used to reduce stomach acid, and the hugely popular diabetes drug metformin (Glucophage).

The authors of the new study looked not only at B-12 levels but at five different blood markers for the vitamin that indicate "where B-12 is active in the tissues," said Tan
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