B vitamins play an important role in a host of body functions, from how we convert food into energy and metabolize cholesterol, to how we manufacture red blood cells and produce myelin, the protective insulation around your nerves.
HOW IT WORKS
“The health effects of B vitamin insufficiencies are well documented, and can cause everything from birth defects to blood disorders, depression and other neurological complications,” says Teodoro Bottiglieri, PhD, principal investigator on staff at BRI’s Institute of Metabolic Disease.
“Deficiencies in folate and vitamin B12 may contribute to higher levels of homocysteine (an amino acid) in the blood, which is a risk factor for those conditions.”
Dr. Bottiglieri recently collaborated on a study in this vein with fellow researcher Estelle Sontag, PhD, at University of Newcastle, Australia.
“We found that mice fed a low-folate diet had elevated levels of homocysteine, as well as a decreased capacity to remove a toxic protein called p-Tau from the brain that is involved in the progression of Alzheimer’s,” Dr. Bottiglieri explains.
WHAT IT MEANS
These findings may have important implications for how we prevent and treat these diseases in the future.
“Our research suggests that ensuring adequate folate and B12 intake before the first signs of dementia may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s,” Dr. Bottiglieri says.
In the future, B vitamin supplementation may be used not only to prevent mental disease, but also to treat it. “There’s evidence that folate can reduce brain atrophy in Alzheimer’s patients, slowing the progression of the disease,” he says.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
A well-balanced diet that includes whole grains, legumes, nuts and meats provide us with all the B vitamins most of us need to stay well. Some people, however, may become deficient, including vegetarians, those who have undergone weight loss surgery or people with certain digestive diseases or anemia.
Until we know more, talk to your doctor about taking a B-complex supplement. “It’s a good insurance policy for your future health,” Dr. Bottiglieri says.
Play a role in future breakthroughs. Some research trials require participants. Visit BaylorHealth.com/AdvancingMedicine to learn more about being a part of a future study.
This content originally appeared in the July 2013 edition of Baylor Health Magazine.