Deficiency of vitamin B12 causes cerebral atrophy

                               Deficiency of vitamin B12 causes cerebral atrophy

                                                    Nitin .K. Sethi, MD

                                            Assistant Professor of Neurology

                                            New York-Presbyterian Hospital

                                              Weill Cornell Medical Center

                                                New York, NY 10065

I am big on vitamins both when it comes to taking it myself and recommending it to my patients. So my interest was naturally piqued when I read an article in the journal Neurology titled ” Vitamin B12  status and rate of brain volume loss in community-dwelling elderly” by Vogiatzoglou et al. The authors investigated the relationship between markers of Vitamin B12 status and brain volume loss in an elderly population. They concluded that low levels of vitamin B12 may contribute to brain volume loss (cerebral atrophy) and may be one of the causes of subsequent cognitive impairment in this population. So how do we interpret this data?

Can vitamin B12 intake prevent the onset of dementia.?

 If so how much of this vitamin should one take?

And at what age should one start taking this?

Questions for which we still do not have good answers. As I see it, vitamin B12 is pretty innocuous (side-effects are few if any) and thus can be safely taken by the majority of people. Moreover it is cheap (as unlike some other vitamins and anti-oxidants in the market eg coenzyme Q10). Dementia is a devastating neurodegenerative condition for which at present there is no cure. If vitamin B12 intake prevents cerebral atrophy then it may be worthwhile recommending it to my patients.

The elderly are a vulnerable population group. Many times their diet is marginal and thus they are prone to having nutritional (vitamin) deficiencies.  Other vulnerable groups include alcoholics (people who drink heavily, usually have marginal diets and thus are prone to vitamin deficiencies), people who have conditions which prevent the body from absorbing vitamin B12 example pernicious anemia, those who have had bowel surgery, Crohn’s diseases, ulcerative colitis etc.

Vitamin B12 is present in meat including fish, poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products. It is important for neuronal function and also helps to maintain healthy red blood cells. So deficiency is more commonly seen in vegetarians especially those who do not have even milk or milk products. It is this group whom I feel shall surely benefit from vitamin B12 dietary supplementation.

At what age should one start taking Vitamin B12 is difficult to answer. Vitamin B12 is stored in the liver and so a person who eats a healthy diet should have ample reserves of this vitamin and does not need supplementation. I usually check the vitamin B12 status of my patients especially those who are elderly or suffering from a chronic medical condition. This can be done by a simple blood test. If they are deficient, I prescribe vitamin B12 (vitamin B12 comes in tablet form. In patients who have very low stores, we sometimes give them a shot of vitamin B12 intramuscularly).

As for the rest of us (“healthy” and not too old) what should we do? One way would be to take a tablet of multivitamin a day. Most good multivitamin combinations do have B12 in them. That is what I do!!!

” the mind is a wonderful thing and a healthy mind is truly beautiful”

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8 thoughts on “Deficiency of vitamin B12 causes cerebral atrophy

  1. My father suffers from cerebral atrophy. After reading many articles including this, we assume he suffers from accute Vitamin B12 deficiency, however in all his medical test reports, he has always had an excess of Vitamin B12 level (more then double to what a normal person to have); can get you the accurate numbers if required.

    He has been taking Vitamin B12 shots weekly for over 7 months now, thinking it may help him. Also there are some more things like Folic Acid and stuff is being taken by him.

    He is 53 years old, and have been suffering from symptoms like very less to no coordination between different body parts, speech problems for over 2 years now.

    Wanted to know, if there are any cures for this disease? Is it ok to take an excess of Vitamin B12?

    Any help or suggestion or cure suggested would be really helpful

    Thanks and Regards

    1. Dear Mr. Mittal,
      while Vitamin B12 is a reversible cause of dementia (memory problems), it is unlikely to be the cause if Vitamin B12 levels are in the normal range or in the case of your father are actually in excess. Too much of Vitamin B12 intake should cause no harm as Vitamin B12 is a water soluble vitamin (meaning if you take it too much, your body shall discard the excess in the urine). I would though advise that your father be investigated for his early onset cerebral atrophy. With that goal in mind, a visit to a neurologist shall be worth the time.

      Personal Regards,
      Nitin Sethi, MD

  2. Hello Dr Nitin

    First of all, thank you soo much for taking time out to writing back to me. My father is putting up at Bangalore, India and I am in Albany, NY. He has visited some neurologist from Manipal Hospital and Sagar Apollo Hospital at Bangalore, with not much of help

    If you could suggest (any recommendations), would be really helpful. He has got some medical reports including MRI done last year, I could ask for the reports as well

    Regards

    1. Dear Nirdesh,
      though I have personally never worked in Bangalore, I do know there are many smart neurologists there. The Apollo group of hospitals should have a good neurology department where he can be seen for his medical ailment. If you can get his reports, I shall be happy to have a look at them and advise you further.

      Personal Regards,
      Nitin Sethi, MD

  3. Hello Dr Nitin,

    Sounds really good… You can expect to see my mail tomorrow or latest by Tuesday…

    Really appreciate all the replies and personal touch you have been taking for the case

    Thanks and Regards

  4. Dear Dr.
    My entire family suffering from cerebral atrophy. As per the diagnose it is confirmed that it is Genetic Which cannot be cured. my mom is suffering from it from past 18 years n brother suffering from it from past 8 years. symptoms are like very less to no coordination between different body parts, speech problems for over 2 years now. and me not recognisable is there but it is there as well as in so what can u suggest for us is death is the only way still we can be normal like others are there on the earth…………

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