Tuesday, 25 April 2017

The Importance of B Vitamins for Brain Health and Combating Dementia

A number of studies have investigated the impact of vitamin supplementation to prevent and/or treat cognitive dysfunction and decline.
It's well-established that healthy fats such as animal-based omega-3 fats are really important for brain health, but other nutrients such as vitamins are also necessary for optimal brain function.
March 17, 2016 

Story at-a-glance

  • Recent research found that giving a multivitamin supplement to seniors suffering from mild cognitive impairment and depression helped improve both conditions
  • Compared to placebo, seniors with high omega-3 levels who were given high doses of vitamins B6, folic acid (B9) and B12 experienced a 40 percent reduced brain atrophy rate over the 2-year treatment course
  • Not only do B vitamins slow brain shrinkage, but they specifically slow shrinkage in brain regions known to be most severely impacted by Alzheimer's disease

By Dr. Mercola
A number of studies have investigated the impact of vitamin supplementation to prevent and/or treat cognitive dysfunction and decline.
It's well-established that healthy fats such as animal-based omega-3 fats are really important for brain health, but other nutrients such as vitamins are also necessary for optimal brain function.
Most recently, a Korean study1 concluded that giving a multivitamin supplement to seniors suffering from mild cognitive impairment and depression helped improve both conditions.
B vitamins in particular, especially folate (B9, aka folic acid in its synthetic form) and vitamins B6 and B12, have made headlines for their powerful role in preventing cognitive decline and more serious dementia such as Alzheimer's disease.
Mental fogginess and problems with memory are actually two of the top warning signs that you have vitamin B12 deficiency, indicating its importance for brain health.

B Vitamins and Omega-3 — An Important Combo for Brain Health

Although Dr. Michael Greger's video is a good review on the research about B vitamins, being a vegetarian he does not include information about animal-based omega-3 fats, which are also beneficial in reducing dementia.

Low plasma concentrations of omega-3 and high levels of the amino acid homocysteine are associated with brain atrophy, dementia, and Alzheimer's. Vitamins B6, B9, and B12 help convert homocysteine into methionine — a building block for proteins.
If you don't get enough of these B vitamins, this conversion process is impaired and as a result your homocysteine levels increase. Conversely, when you increase intake of folic acid (folate), vitamin B6, and vitamin B12, your homocysteine levels decrease.
In one placebo-controlled trial2 published in 2015, 168 seniors diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment were randomly assigned to receive either placebo, or daily supplementation with 0.8 mg of folic acid, 20 mg of vitamin B6, and 0.5 mg of B12.
It's worth noting that these are quite high doses — far above the U.S. RDA. All participants underwent cranial magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans at the outset of the study, and at the end, two years later.
The effect of the vitamin B supplementation was analyzed and compared to their omega-3 fatty acid concentrations at baseline. Interestingly, only those who had high omega-3 levels reaped beneficial effects from the B vitamins.
As noted by the authors:
"There was a significant interaction between B vitamin treatment and plasma combined omega-3 fatty acids (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid) on brain atrophy rates.
In subjects with high baseline omega-3 fatty acids (>590 μmol/L), B vitamin treatment slowed the mean atrophy rate by 40 percent compared with placebo.
B vitamin treatment had no significant effect on the rate of atrophy among subjects with low baseline omega-3 fatty acids (<390 μmol/L). High baseline omega-3 fatty acids were associated with a slower rate of brain atrophy in the B vitamin group but not in the placebo group...
It is also suggested that the beneficial effect of omega-3 fatty acids on brain atrophy may be confined to subjects with good B vitamin status."

B Vitamins Significantly Slow Brain Shrinkage

As mentioned above, elevated homocysteine is linked to brain degeneration, and B vitamins are known to suppress homocysteine.
A 2010 study,3 in which participants again received higher than normal doses of B vitamins, also found that people receiving B vitamins experienced far less brain shrinkage than the placebo group.
Here the participants received either a placebo or 800 micrograms (mcg) folic acid, 500 mcg B12, and 20 mg B6. The study was based on the presumption that by controlling homocysteine levels you might be able to reduce brain shrinkage, thereby slowing the onset of Alzheimer's.
Indeed, after two years those who received the vitamin B regimen suffered significantly less brain shrinkage compared to those who had received a placebo. Those who had the highest levels of homocysteine at the start of the trial experienced brain shrinkage at half the rate of those taking a placebo.

Research Shows B Vitamins Specifically Slow Alzheimer's Disease

A 2013 study4 takes this research a step further, showing that not only do B vitamins slow brain shrinkage, but they specifically slow shrinkage in brain regions known to be most severely impacted by Alzheimer's disease. Moreover, in those specific areas the shrinkage is decreased by as much as seven-fold!
The brain scans clearly show the difference between placebo and vitamin supplementation on brain atrophy. As in the studies above, participants taking high doses of folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 lowered their blood levels of homocysteine, and brain shrinkage was decreased by as much as 90 percent.
As noted by the authors:
" … B vitamins lower homocysteine, which directly leads to a decrease in GM [gray matter] atrophy, thereby slowing cognitive decline.
Our results show that B vitamin supplementation can slow the atrophy of specific brain regions that are a key component of the AD [Alzheimer's disease] process and that are associated with cognitive decline."

B12-Rich Foods Reduce Risk of Alzheimer's in Later Years

Other supporting research includes a small Finnish study5 published in 2010. It found that people who consume vitamin B12-rich foods may reduce their risk of Alzheimer's in their later years.
For each unit increase in the marker of vitamin B12 (holotranscobalamin), the risk of developing Alzheimer's was reduced by 2 percent. This makes a strong case for ensuring your diet includes plenty of B vitamin foods, such as meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products and wild-caught fish.
Leafy green vegetables, beans, and peas also provide some of the B vitamins, but if you eat an all vegetarian or vegan diet, you're at a significantly increased risk of vitamin B12 deficiency, as B12 is naturally present in foods that come from animals, including meat, fish, eggs, milk and milk products.
In such a case, supplementation is really important. Another concern is whether your body can adequately absorb the B12. It's the largest vitamin molecule we know of, and because of its hefty size, it's not easily absorbed.
This is why many, if not most, oral B12 supplements fail to deliver any benefits. Vitamin B12 requires a gastric protein called intrinsic factor to bind to it, which allows it to be absorbed in the end of your small intestine (terminal ileum). The intrinsic factor is absorbed first, pulling the attached B12 molecule along with it.
As you grow older, your ability to produce intrinsic factor decreases, thereby increasing your risk for vitamin B12 deficiency. Use of metformin (Glucophage, Glucophage XR, Fortamet, Riomet, and Glumetza) may also inhibit your B12 absorption, especially at higher doses. Drinking four or more cups of coffee a day can reduce your B vitamin stores by as much as 15 percent, and use of antacids will also hinder your body's ability to absorb B12.

Other Valuable Vitamins for Brain Health

Besides B vitamins, vitamins C and D are also important for optimal brain health.6 Vitamin C plays a role in the production of neurotransmitters, including serotonin, which has antidepressant activity. Vitamin C has also been shown to improve IQ, memory, and offer protection against age-related brain degeneration and strokes.
In one study,7 the combination of vitamin C and E (which work synergistically) helped reduce the risk of dementia by 60 percent. Vitamin C also has detoxifying effects, and due to its ability to cross your blood-brain barrier, it can help remove heavy metals from your brain.
Vitamin D, a steroid hormone produced in your skin in response to sun exposure, also has profound effects on your brain. Pregnant women need to be particularly cognizant of this, as vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy can prevent proper brain development in the fetus, plus a host of other problems. After birth, children need vitamin D for continued brain development, and in adulthood, optimal levels have been shown to help prevent cognitive decline.8,9

Where to Find These Valuable Brain Nutrients

There's nothing "normal" about cognitive decline. More often than not, it's due to poor lifestyle choices, starting with a nutrient-deficient diet that is too high in sugars, non-vegetable carbs, unhealthy fats like trans fats, and too many toxins (pesticides and artificial additives, etc).
As a general rule, I recommend getting most if not all of your nutrition from REAL FOOD, ideally organic to avoid toxic pesticides, and locally grown. Depending on your situation and condition however, you may need one or more supplements.
To start, review the following listing of foods that contain the brain nutrients discussed in this article: animal-based omega-3s, vitamins B6, B9, and B12, C, and D. If you find that you rarely or never eat foods rich in one or more of these nutrients, you may want to consider taking a high-quality, ideally food-based supplement. I've made some suggestions to keep in mind when selecting a good supplement.
NutrientDietary SourcesSupplement Recommendations
Animal-based omega-3Fatty fish that is low in mercury, such as wild-caught Alaskan salmon, sardines, and anchovies, as well as organic grass-fed beef.10 

Sardines, in particular, are one of the most concentrated sources of omega-3 fats, with one serving containing more than 50 percent of your recommended daily value.
Antarctic krill oil is a sustainable choice. It also has the added benefit of containing natural astaxanthin, which helps prevent oxidation.

Another good option is wild-caught Alaskan salmon oil.
Vitamin B6Turkey, beef, chicken, wild-caught salmon, sweet potatoes, potatoes, sunflower seeds, pistachios, avocado, spinach and banana.11,12Nutritional yeast is an excellent source of B vitamins, especially B6.13 One serving (2 tablespoons) contains nearly 10 mg of vitamin B6.

Not to be confused with Brewer's yeast or other active yeasts, nutritional yeast is made from an organism grown on molasses, which is then harvested and dried to deactivate the yeast.

It has a pleasant cheesy flavor and can be added to a number of different dishes. For tips, see this vegan blog post.14
Folate (B9)Fresh, raw, and organic leafy green vegetables, especially broccoli, asparagus, spinach, and turnip greens, and a wide variety of beans, especially lentils, but also pinto beans, garbanzo beans, navy and black beans, and kidney beans.15Folic acid is a synthetic type of B vitamin used in supplements; folate is the natural form found in foods. 

Think: folate comes from foliage (edible leafy plants). 

For folic acid to be of use, it must first be activated into its biologically active form — L-5-MTHF. 

This is the form able to cross the blood-brain barrier to give you the brain benefits noted. 

Nearly half of the population has difficulty converting folic acid into the bioactive form due to a genetic reduction in enzyme activity.

For this reason, if you take a B vitamin supplement, make sure it contains natural folate rather than synthetic folic acid. 

Nutritional yeast is an excellent source.16
Vitamin B12Vitamin B12 is found almost exclusively in animal tissues, including foods like beef and beef liver, lamb, snapper, venison, salmon, shrimp, scallops, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. 

The few plant foods that are sources of B12 are actually B12 analogs that block the uptake of true B12.

Also consider limiting sugar and eating fermented foods. 

The entire B group vitamin series is produced within your gut, assuming you have healthy gut flora. 

Eating real food, ideally organic, along with fermented foods will provide your microbiome with important fiber and beneficial bacteria to help optimize your internal vitamin B production.
Nutritional yeast is also high in B12, and is highly recommended for vegetarians and vegans.

One serving (2 tbsp) provides nearly 8 micrograms (mcg) of natural vitamin B12.17

Sublingual (under-the-tongue) fine mist spray or vitamin B12 injections are also effective, as they allow the large B12 molecule to be absorbed directly into your bloodstream.
Vitamin CSweet peppers, chili peppers, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, artichoke, sweet potato, tomato, cauliflower, kale, papaya, strawberries, oranges, kiwifruit, grapefruit, cantaloupe, and lemon.

To boost your intake of fruits and vegetables, consider juicing. As an alternative, you can also make fermented vegetables at home.

The vitamin C in sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) is about six times higher than in the same helping of unfermented cabbage, so it's an excellent way to boost your vitamin C intake.
The most effective form of oral vitamin C is liposomal vitamin C. 

It's not associated with many of the complications of traditional vitamin C or ascorbic acid (such as gastrointestinal distress), which will allow you to achieve higher intracellular concentrations.

You can expect a significant rise in plasma vitamin C concentration at doses between 30 and 100 mg/day.

Taking vitamin C frequently throughout the day is more effective than taking one large dose once a day.
Vitamin DVitamin D is created naturally when your skin is exposed to sunshine.

While you can get some vitamin D from grass-fed meats and other whole foods and fortified foods, sun exposure is an ideal primary source.
When taking supplemental vitamin D, also be sure to increase your intake of vitamin K2 and magnesium, either from food or a supplement.

Can This Banned Condiment Boost Brain Function? (Marmite)

Not many in the US eat Marmite, the British version of Australia's savory spread known as Vegemite. Somewhat controversial in some countries (for an...

April 17, 2017 


Story at-a-glance

  • Marmite, the U.K. version of Vegemite, is a salty spread made since the 1800s from yeast extract and now shown by researchers to have numerous compounds to enhance your health
  • A single serving of Marmite provides 36 percent of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) recommended for niacin, 50 percent of the RDI in folic acid and 40 percent of the RDI in vitamin B12, as well as other B vitamins
  • Marmite may increase gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels to optimize brain function and stave off cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s
  • Studies show Marmite to be better than peanut butter in terms of its ability as a brain booster, can successfully treat anemia and helps protect your body against resistant bacteria, including MRSA

By Dr. Mercola
Perhaps you first heard about Vegemite in the early 1980s from the Men at Work song, "Down Under."
The Australian sandwich spread, described by the Telegraph as a sticky, gloopy, salty spread made from yeast extract, may be the flavor that embodies the entire continent, as 23 million jars are purchased in Australia every year.1
Vegemite's first cousin, Marmite, is the British version of the controversial condiment. Both are considered an acquired taste, but it's the latter that's been scrutinized in scientific circles and found to contain some very impressive properties for the human body.
In fact, several studies show it contains vital nutrients, including 40 percent of the reference daily intake (RDI) for vitamin B12, 50 percent for folic acid and 36 percent for niacin, helps to protect against antibiotic-resistant superbugs such as MRSA and boosts gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels to restore optimal brain balance.2
Invented in the late 1800s, Marmite came first, followed by Vegemite, invented in the 1920s. In fact, Marmite was included in the ration packs English soldiers carried during World War I. The high level of different B vitamins is also attributed to its effectiveness as a mosquito repellent.
The Daily Meal describes the dark, rich sauce as "full of umami and, at first blush, one of the most disgusting things most Americans have ever tried."3
The British are serious about their Marmite. Owned by Unilever, the company's spoof Ministry of Marmite exists "to enrich the existence of all Marmite lovers, whether resident in the U.K. or overseas, through the comprehensive application of Marmite in every facet of their domestic, professional, cultural and social lives."4
Brits and Aussies are wild about their respective yeast extracts like many Americans are about jam on their morning toast, but Marmite isn't sweet like jelly and marmalade; it's umami, the newest flavor among the basic tastes of sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Umami is the Japanese word for "delicious," which in English means "savory."
Popular as a meat flavor for vegetarians, this yeast-based paste can be stored at room temperature and, although it might dry out, remains edible for years, according to the International Business Times (IBT).5 One must ask what's in it to give it such a remarkable calling card.

Sweden Not a Fan: Marmite's Controversial Components

The main ingredients in Marmite are yeast extract, vegetable extract and salt augmented with thiamin, folate, riboflavin, niacin, iron and vitamin B12. It's flavored with things like celery extract, although the exact ingredients and the amounts are a carefully guarded and undisclosed recipe.
The Marmite website reports that a jar contains 100 grams (just over 3.5 ounces) with 34 grams of protein, 30 carbs, 1.2 grams of sugar and 10.8 grams of salt.6 In spite of its strong flavor, some consider Marmite to be a bona fide superfood. According to Daily Mail:
"Both products are made via a complex method in which salt is added to a suspension of yeast and then heated, resulting in a rich paste loaded with free glutamic acids, also known as umami (it's the primary component of MSG).
The exact recipe is a secret, but various vegetable extracts and vitamins are also added."7
The glutamic acid in MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is an excitotoxin, which means it overexcites your cells to the point of damage or death. But the glutamic acid found in nutritional yeast binds to and is absorbed by other amino acids or proteins, while what is found in MSG is not. In essence, your body controls the glutamic levels.
While Marmite isn't exactly banned in Sweden, the government requires retailers to obtain special permission from the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration to place it on their shelves. IBT explains it this way:
"The paste is made by adding salt to the yeast by-product from breweries, heating the solution until the cell walls of the yeast are softened, then straining the solution to make it smooth.
The result is naturally rich in vitamins, especially the Vitamin B complex, but additional vitamins and minerals are added to Marmite — and that is what the Danish government dislikes."8
While in the U.S. Marmite barely shows up on the radar in terms of nutrition, it's been lab tested and declared better than peanut butter in terms of its ability as a brain booster. Recent studies have determined that the savory substance may increase your brain's neurotransmitters, the function involving messaging.

Marmite May Boost Your Brain's GABA Levels

Of course, it was a study based in the U.K., kicked off when researchers found that a single teaspoon of Marmite, taken daily by study participants, prompted a decrease in neural response to visual stimuli.
Scientists at the University of York said that's an indicator of increased gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels.9 According to Medical News Today:
"GABA is a neurotransmitter responsible for inhibiting the excitability of brain cells, helping to restore the optimal balance of neuronal activity required for healthy brain functioning. Put simply, GABA 'calms' the brain.
Previous studies have associated low GABA levels with an increased risk of numerous neurological and mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, autism and epilepsy. As a result, researchers have been investigating ways to boost GABA levels in the brain."10
Study author Daniel Baker, Ph.D., used data from 26 adults, divided into two groups. One group was directed to eat a teaspoon of Marmite every day for a month, while the others ate the same amount of peanut butter.
Thirty days later, the study subjects underwent electroencephalography to measure brain activity in response to visual stimuli in the form of flickering lights.
The latter group had a 30 percent decrease in neural response to visual stimuli in comparison to the Marmite group but, even better, those responses were ongoing for another eight weeks.
The result was similar to that resulting from an animal study in which there was a 300 percent decrease in neural response to visual stimuli. The study concluded:
"This 'response gain' effect should provide a clear index of GABA availability in cortex, in that increasing GABA concentration should reduce the neural response evoked by visual stimuli to below normal levels."11
Baker said the main reason for the significantly reduced responsiveness to visual stimuli in the participants was most likely the high concentration of vitamin B12 in the Marmite.
Interestingly, while the scientists stressed that therapeutic recommendations couldn't yet be made, they touted the study as the "first example of how dietary interventions can alter cortical processes."12

B Vitamins: 'Super' Compounds in Marmite

According to the Journal of Clinical Investigation,13 niacin, or vitamin B3, one of the main ingredients in Marmite, helps protect your body against staphylococcus bacteria. The Telegraph reports that in tests, niacin:
" … [P]roduces neutrophils, a white blood cell that fights bacteria — [and] increased our immune system's ability to kill different strains of the bugs by up to 1,000 times.
This could mark a turning point in the battle against antibiotic-resistant superbugs, such as MRSA, the deadly strain that poses a threat in hospitals."14
Folate, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 are essential for converting what could become a damaging molecule, called homocysteine, into the amino acid cysteine in a process called the methylation cycle.
Without this suppression mechanism, studies show heart disease and Alzheimer's to be an increased risk, as homocysteine can lead to brain and blood vessel deterioration. According to the George Mateljan Foundation:
"Homocysteine promotes atherosclerosis by directly damaging blood vessel walls and by interfering with the formation of collagen (the main protein in connective tissue).
Elevations in homocysteine are found in approximately 20 [to] 40 percent of patients with heart disease, and it is estimated that daily consumption of 400 mcg of folate alone would reduce the number of heart attacks suffered by Americans each year by 10 percent."15
Further, high levels of homocysteine not only are linked to blood vessel damage, but are often found in Alzheimer's patients, suggesting that many people all over the world may be suffering from a "Marmite" (or B vitamin) deficiency.
Other brain and mental capacities positively influenced by vitamin B3, or niacin, found liberally in Marmite, include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. And B12 deficiency can trigger different types of psychoses and paranoia. Unfortunately, this deficiency is common.

How an Early Scientist Discovered One of Marmite's Most Important Benefits

In the 1930s, English scientist Lucy Wills discovered that the folic acid content in Marmite could successfully treat anemia. In studying whether a vitamin deficiency might contribute to what was at the time called pernicious anemia of pregnancy, one review noted her research on the effects of Marmite, a "cheap yeast extract," on monkeys:
"One particular monkey did especially poorly, and for reasons which are not recorded — perhaps in desperation — she tried the cheap yeast extract, Marmite. It had a dramatic effect. Thus, after all the intensive examination of diets and exhaustive testing on rats, it was a chance intervention with a single animal that led to the breakthrough. Wills had taken the first step to the discovery of folic acid."16
According to nutritionist Melanie Brown, who specializes in pre-conception and pregnancy nutrition, Marmite can help pregnant women through morning sickness, as well as help elderly individuals who have lost their sense of taste.

High Salt Content Leads to Marmite Bans, but —

Denmark, which hasn't sold Marmite since May 2011, isn't the only country to look unfavorably on the savory condiment that a large portion of the known world swears it can't live without. The powers-that-be in Ceredigion, Wales, banned Marmite in elementary schools in 2008.
Oregon State University jumped on the bandwagon and began warning people not to take high "doses" of the stuff without medical supervision due to its high salt content. However, salt is not the ogre it's been made out to be. In fact, not enough salt in your diet isn't good for your heart. The more important question is whether or not your salt quotient is properly balanced with that of your potassium intake.