Research by a team of scientists lead by David Smith, Professor Emeritus of Pharmacology at Oxford has shown that high levels of an amino acid called homocysteine in the body can damage brain cells and that B vitamins like B-12, B-6 and folic acid can have a reducing effect on homocysteine and prevent its ability to cause damage.
Results were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and showed that people in the trial who got the B vitamins were almost entirely protected from the brain shrinkage suffered by those who only got a placebo pill.
While a rapidly shrinking brain is one of the signs of a raised risk for Alzheimer’s, the people in the research taking the B vitamins had 90 per cent less shrinkage in their brains than those taking the placebo.
Scans showed the areas of the brain that were protected from damage are almost exactly the same Alzheimer’s typically destroys.
‘I’ve never seen results from brain scans showing this level of protection,’ said Paul Thompson, professor of neurology and head of the Imaging Genetics Center at UCLA School of Medicine, California. Thompson is a specialist in using brain scans with all manner of problems and treatment. Typically, a good result is a 25% improvement.
The research was part funded by the Government’s Medical Research Council and was ran for two years by OPTIMA (Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing) at Oxford University.
Homocysteine levels are also indicators of cancer risk. The higher the level, the greater the risk.
The B vitamins tested effectively helped keep the homocysteine levels in check.
In healthy adults, homocysteine is normally converted into two important brain chemicals, like acetylcholine (essential for memory function).
However a great deal of research shows Alzheimer’s patients have high levels of homocysteine but low levels of acetylcholine (in fact, the most common Alzheimer’s drug.
B vitamins may be a simple preventative measure. They are produced in the gut by the action of certain bacteria on fibrous foods. It has also been established that Alzheimer’s can be linked to a loss of diversity in the gut bacteria, and lowered levels of B vitamin production.
A link between B vitamin deficiency and brain deterioration has been known for quite some time. For example, in cases of alcoholism where B vitamin levels are diminished, brain function is depleted.
In this Oxford study (itself a follow up to one reported PLoS ONE in 2010), for the first time B vitamins were linked by using scans to a reduction in brain shrinkage, and increased cognitive function.
So will the NHS be telling people to take dementia prevention steps by supplementing with B complex vitamins??
Somehow, we doubt it!