Want to stave off cognitive problems as you get older? Consider making a special effort to get enough Vitamin B12. A recent study showed that a lack of B12 can not only result in lower scores on tests of cognitive ability; it actually can correlate with smaller total brain volume.

Researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, supported by the National Institute on Aging, studied 121 Chicagoans age 65 and older. At the beginning of the project, the participants had their blood drawn to measure levels of Vitamin B12 and B12 metabolites, which are byproducts of metabolism that can indicate a deficiency. The subjects also were administered tests that measured their memory and cognition. About four and a half years later, on average, they were given MRI scans so the researchers could see their total brain volume and check for other signs of possible brain damage. The scientists had established five possible markers for Vitamin B12 deficiency. The results showed that having four out of five of these markers was positively correlated with lower scores on the mental tests and also with having smaller total brain volume. The actual level of B12 in the blood was not definitely related to lower mental function or smaller brain volume, as the researchers noted that B12 blood levels can be difficult to detect. Rather, it was the markers of B12 deficiency that provided the information to the research team.

Can adding B12 to your diet in your middle years stave off cognitive deficits and help you avoid brain shrinkage? The scientists involved in this study aren't yet ready to make such a definitive declaration, but they do note that a similar British trial in which participants took B12 supplements suggest that adding the vitamin to your diet may help. Vitamin B12 is commonly found in animal products, especially liver and clams. Not fond of these two delicacies? An easy way to add B12 to your diet is to eat breakfast cereals that are fortified with it. Trout and salmon also have decent levels of B12, as do other meats and dairy items. You can also take a vitamin supplement to ensure you're getting all the B12 you need.



American Academy of Neurology, www.aan.com

National Institutes of Heath's Office of Dietary Supplements, http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/vitaminb12.