Vitamin B Did Not Improve Thinking or Memory

B vitamin treatment did not improve cognitive function in elderly patients with raised homocysteine levels

(RxWiki News) Mental games can help keep brains sharp, but warding off dementia that can occur in old age may take more than that. New research examined whether a vitamin supplement could help.

Homocysteine — an amino acid formed in the body from the breakdown of protein — has been shown to be toxic to brain nerve cells. A research team from the Netherlands recently studied whether lowering homocysteine — by giving patients vitamin B-12 and folic acid (a type of B vitamin) — would help keep the brain sharp in older people.

The study found that lowering homocysteine in elderly people with B vitamins did not improve their thinking skills or memory.

Nikita L. van der Zwaluw, PhD, from Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and colleagues wrote the study.

"Since homocysteine levels can be lowered with folic acid and vitamin B-12 supplements, the hope has been that taking these vitamins could also reduce the risk of memory loss and Alzheimer's disease," said study author Rosalie A.M. Dhonukshe-Rutten, PhD, in a press release.

The study included 2,919 people with an average age of 74. All the patients in the study had high levels of homocysteine in their blood, at 12 to 50 micromoles per liter (umol/l). Homocysteine values of less than 13 umol/l are considered normal, according to the American Heart Association.

Dr. van der Zwaluw and team gave the patients either 400 micrograms (ug) of folic acid and 50 ug of vitamin B-12 or a placebo (fake pill) daily for two years. Each group of patients also took 15 ug of vitamin D-3. Foods rich in vitamin B-12 and folic acid include egg yolks, almonds, whole-grain breads and spinach.

The homocysteine levels dropped 5 umol/l in the group of people who took the vitamin B-12 and folic acid supplements. Homocysteine dropped by about 1 umol/l in the people who took the placebo.

The study authors used cognitive tests to assess thinking skills and memory in the patients. The two groups had similar test results.

The general mental condition of the people in the group who received the supplements improved slightly, but the study authors said they did not know whether this small improvement was due to chance.

"To unravel the effects of B vitamins, a closer look into early brain [diseases] would be useful to uncover subtle effects that are difficult to detect with paper and pencil tests," Dr. van der Zwaluw and team wrote.

The authors noted that their study focused on healthy people with raised homocysteine. They said the results might not be the same in people who already had dementia. Dementia is a mental disorder marked by personality changes and impaired memory and thinking. It is most common in older patients.

This study was published online Nov. 12 in Neurology.

Several groups in the Netherlands funded the study, such as the Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development and the Netherlands Consortium for Healthy Ageing. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
November 11, 2014