Many people wonder if vitamin B12 is really important for brain health and if it actually helps to improve memory function and decrease risk of brain health complications.
Vitamin B12 plays many important roles in the body. It is a cofactor in many enzymatic processes and has a very specific affinity for the nerves and nervous system.
I love recommending B12 supplements and foods rich in B12 for many reasons. Number one is that it has never been shown to have any toxicity at any dose. In addition, it has no known drug or herb interactions, so just about everybody can safely take it without worry of negative side effects.
B12 for Memory and Brain Function
There is a lot of research regarding brain function and B12 supplementation, although some of it is mixed, and further research — better-designed and larger studies are needed. The current findings on B12 parallel other exciting research regarding B vitamins and brain function. One recently published study found that high doses of B vitamins (specifically B12, B6 and folic acid) reduced the rate of brain atrophy in elderly individuals with mild cognitive impairment.
In another recent study published in the journal, Neurology, researchers studied a group of 271 Finnish adults between the ages of 65 and 71 who showed no signs of dementia at the beginning of the study. After seven years, the researchers found that 17 of these adults had developed Alzheimer’s. Further analysis of blood samples taken throughout the study correlated higher levels of homocysteine with an increased risk of developing dementia. Homocysteine is a protein naturally formed in the body as a result of metabolism which has been correlated with increased risk for stroke and heart disease. On the contrary, the researchers found that for every rise in blood levels of B12, Alzheimer’s risk decreased slightly.
My View on B12
It is well known that B12 deficiency is more common among the elderly, due to decreased ability to absorb B12 from food. As we age, we make less of a substance called intrinsic factor, which is released by the cells in our stomach and is necessary for B12 absorption. We have also known for a long time about the damaging effects of homocysteine on the vascular system of the body and that B12 supplementation is often an effective tool for lowering circulating homocysteine levels.
My guess is that the results of this study reflect the role of B12’s ability to lower homocysteine, and although it will not likely reverse the symptoms of dementia once they have set in, it might reduce the progression of the disease at early phases and/or slow its development in susceptible individuals. B12’s effectiveness is most likely to be relevant to those in the population that have a significantly increased risk for developing dementia, have high homocysteine levels or have low B12 levels.
In general, B vitamins play a huge role in many of the biological processes in our body. They are all water-soluble and have very little potential for toxicity. We are seeing more of this convincing research regarding their role in brain health, as well as cardiovascular health, most likely due their role in reducing blood levels of homocysteine.
They also play vital roles in the detoxification pathways of our liver and in the stress response system of our adrenal glands. For all of these reasons, I suggest that all people get supplemental B vitamins daily — either from a high quality, high potency multivitamin or from a B-complex supplement.
If you have additional risk factors for heart disease, dementia or have a compromised digestive system (due to gastric bypass surgery, poor digestion, Crohn’s disease, etc.), you may very well want to consider an additional sublingual (under the tongue) B12 supplement. Additionally, people taking proton pump inhibitors for acid reflux symptoms often suffer from B12 deficiency due to the fact that these drugs decrease acid secretions, which are needed to free B12 from protein in food.
Other Important Notes about B12
Supplementing with B12 can get a bit tricky. As I mentioned, it is best to supplement in a sublingual form, as this bypasses the tricky absorption mechanism in the stomach and allows the nutrient to be absorbed directly into the blood stream via the dense capillary bed under the tongue. Other options are B12 injections administered by your physician or nasal sprays that utilize the capillaries in your nasal canal.
The much preferred from of B12 for sublingual supplementation is methylcobalamin. This is activated B12 and is very effective at raising blood levels through sublingual dosing. It is typically slightly more expensive, but well worth the extra cost.
Dosage for B12
Typical doses of B12 range from 1 mg (1,000 mcg) to 5 mg (5,000 mcg). I think somewhere between 3 – 5 mg per day represents the most clinically effective dose for most issues and for raising blood levels of B12 in people with deficiencies.
A Clinical Pearl on the Use of B12 for Fatigue
One of B12’s most wonderful benefits is its ability to support energy levels. Many people are familiar with the B12 injections given by doctors for fatigue, but I find that the right type of sublingual supplement can work just as well. What is nice is that it is a non-stimulating type of energy, so people who are suffering from anxiety or tend to be easily over-stimulated can tolerate it just fine. I have literally had people tell me that taking a sublingual B12 for energy changed their life.
Of course, you are more likely to benefit if your levels are low to begin with, but even people with normal B12 levels frequently notice improvements in energy levels and stamina when supplementing with B12. The typical dose for this energy supporting effect is 5 mg (5,000 mcg) daily.
Dr. Passero completed four years of post-graduate medical education at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon after receiving a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Biology from the University of Colorado. Dr. Passero has trained with some of the nation’s leading doctors in the field of natural medicine. In his practice, Dr. Passero focuses on restoring harmony to both the body and mind using advanced protocols that incorporate herbal therapy, homeopathy, vitamin therapy and nutritional programs. Through education and guidance patients are able to unlock the natural healing power contained within each one of us. For more information, visit his website, Green Healing Wellness, or follow him on Facebook.