Vitamin B12 deficiency: The dementia-related symptoms that may signal you lack the vitamin

Vitamin B12 is required for proper red blood cell formation, neurological function, and DNA synthesis. A vitamin B12 deficiency undermines these vital processes, leading to a number of physical and psychological changes in the body. One of the more pronounced symptoms that can arise from a B12 deficiency relates the nervous system.

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A B12 deficiency can cause a decline in your mental abilities, such as memory, understanding and judgement.

As the NHS points out, these symptoms are commonly associated with dementia.

Dementia is a syndrome (a group of related symptoms) associated with an ongoing decline of brain functioning.

While dementia symptoms may seem mild at first, over time, they tend to become more severe, which can have a profound effect on your ability to perform even basic tasks.

Strengthening the link, one observational study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society associated mild vitamin B-12 deficiency with accelerated cognitive decline in men and women, beginning in their mid-seventies.

Martha Savaria Morris, Ph.D., an epidemiologist in the Nutrition Epidemiology Program at the HNRCA at Tufts University, and colleagues examined data from 549 men and women enrolled in a cohort of the Framingham Heart Study, focusing on scores on the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), a short list of questions and tasks commonly used to screen for dementia.

The subjects were divided into five groups, based on their vitamin B-12 blood levels.

Being in the two lowest groups was associated with significantly accelerated cognitive decline, based on an analysis of test scores from five MMSE tests given over a period of eight years. The average age at baseline was 75 years-old.

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The Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE) is the most commonly used test for complaints of problems with memory or other mental abilities.

Commenting on the findings, Morris said: “Men and women in the second lowest group did not fare any better in terms of cognitive decline than those with the worst vitamin B-12 blood levels. Over time, their MMSE scores declined just as rapidly,” Morris said.

She added: ”Rapid neuropsychiatric decline is a well-known consequence of severe vitamin B-12 deficiency, but our findings suggest that adverse cognitive effects of low vitamin B-12 status may affect a much larger proportion of seniors than previously thought.”

Who is at risk?

According to Harvard Health, some older people are at a higher risk of a B12 deficiency because they are more prone to developing a stomach condition called atrophic gastritis.

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Atrophic gastritis is a chronic condition that causes inflammation of the stomach lining over a long time.

According to Harvard Health, this condition reduces the amount of B12 absorbed by the small intestine.

Vegans are most at risk for developing a B12 deficiency because, aside from fortified breakfast cereals, the only reliable dietary sources of vitamin B12 are animal-derived products, explains the health site.

In fact, people who find it difficult to get enough vitamin B12 in their diets, such as those following a vegan diet, may need vitamin B12 tablets for life, says the NHS.

Vitamin B12 can be found alternatives to meat and dairy products, however, such as yeast extract (including Marmite), as well as some fortified breakfast cereals and soy products.

You should check nutrition labels while food shopping to see how much vitamin B12 different foods contain, advises the NHS.

If your vitamin B12 deficiency is not caused by a lack of vitamin B12 in your diet, you’ll usually need to have an injection of hydroxocobalamin every two to three months for the rest of your life, notes the health site.

Hydroxocobalamin is a common type of vitamin B12 injection that is usually recommended as it stays in the body for longer, explains the health body.

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