Understanding Vitamin B12 in Relation to Cognitive Function

Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin that plays a crucial role in many bodily functions, including the health of the nervous system and the formation of red blood cells. Recent research has shown that vitamin B12 also significantly affects cognitive function and memory.

The human body cannot produce vitamin B12 on its own, so it must be obtained through diet or supplementation. Animal-based products such as meat, poultry, fish, and dairy are the primary dietary sources of vitamin B12. Supplementation may be necessary for people who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet to ensure adequate intake.

Vitamin B12 Deficiency and Cognitive Impairment

Research has shown that vitamin B12 deficiency can cause cognitive impairment, especially in older adults.

  • One study found that low levels of vitamin B12 were associated with decreased cognitive function and an increased risk of dementia (1).
  • Other studies have found that people with a vitamin B12 deficiency were more likely to experience depression (2) and memory problems (3)

Additionally, certain neurological illnesses have been linked to vitamin B12 deficiencies. For example, pernicious anemia is a condition that occurs when the body cannot absorb vitamin B12 properly, leading to a deficiency. This condition can cause neurological symptoms such as numbness, tingling, and difficulty walking.

Vitamin B12 Supplementation

Supplementing with vitamin B12 can help prevent deficiency and improve cognitive function (4).

Methylcobalamin is the preferred form of vitamin B12 supplementation, as it is the form that is most easily absorbed and used by the body. Cyanocobalamin, another common form of vitamin B12, must be converted by the liver into methylcobalamin before it can be used by the body.

In addition to following a diet rich in vitamin B12 sources, supplementation may be the best way to ensure adequate intake. Supplements can be taken orally or through injections.

People who are at risk of deficiency, such as those who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet or who have certain medical conditions, should consider supplementation.

Dosage for Vitamin B12 supplementation should be determined by a practitioner.

What Causes a Vitamin B12 Deficiency?

There are many reasons why someone may be low in vitamin B12. As mentioned, following a long-term vegan or vegetarian diet can increase the risk of deficiency, as can certain medical conditions such as pernicious anemia or Crohn’s disease. There are also medications that can deplete the body of vitamin b12.

  • In pernicious anemia, the protein needed for Vitamin B12 absorption, known as intrinsic factor, is significantly reduced.
  • In Crohns disease, the part of the intestine responsible for B12 absorption becomes inflamed and ulcerated resulting in reduced absorption.
  • Older adults are also more at risk of deficiency, as their bodies may have a decreased ability to absorb vitamin B12 due to reduced HCl levels in the stomach. HCl is required to release Vitamin B12 from foods. When the acid is reduced, the body cannot access B12 from food resulting in what is known as “Food-bound Vitamin B12 Malabsorption”.
  • Alcohol consumption as well as the use of a drugs such as proton-pump-inhibitors and a diabetes drug called metformin are linked to the depletion of vitamin b12.
  • Gastric bypass and Gastrectomy surgeries can also hamper the absorption of vitamin B12.

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by Dr. Nishal R.
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