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Vitamins B-12, B-6 memory

How To Keep Your Brain In Shape

 By Dr. Gifford Jones

Are there days when you think you need a brain transplant? You’re getting those “senior moments” even though you’re only 40 years age? Or at 70 you’re forgetting things you shouldn’t forget? These days with so much talk about Alzheimer’s Disease, it’s easy to assume you may be “losing it”. But today there are ways to keep the brain functioning the way it’s supposed to.

Here’s a story from Tuft’s University that shows you don’t have to be a neurologist to understand what’s happening to the brain. Dr. Robert Russell a gastroenterologist and Director of the Human Research Center at Tuffs, cured a woman with a single pill.

The patient, 70 years of age, had reached the point where she seemed unable to remember anything from one moment to the next. Her family was frantic that she was suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease.

Dr. Russell discovered her problem was due to a particularly severe case of vitamin B-12 deficiency resulting from atrophy of the lining of her stomach.

It’s well known that aging causes the stomach’s lining to become thinner thus decreasing its production of acid. We also know that vitamin B-12 is firmly attached to a protein. To pry it loose so it can be absorbed, there must be sufficient amounts of hydrochloric acid.

Dr. Russell admits this was an extreme case. But once the patient was placed on tablets of B-12, not dependent on stomach acid, her memory was largely restored.

This case dramatically illustrates how nutrition is vital to the normally functioning brain.

For instance, studies show that people having higher levels of B vitamin folate could remember the details of short stories better than those with lower levels of this vitamin. And they were able to copy geometric drawings better.

Another study revealed that those with high levels of vitamin B 6 were more adept at listening to a series of numbers and then repeating them backwards.

But how do these vitamins help the brain? There’s good evidence that high levels of cholesterol are not the only factor in clogging arteries. Rather, a substance called homocysteine can also narrow arteries, reducing the amount of oxygen to the brain. And B-12 lowers the blood level of homocysteine.

Other factors such as genetics play a major role. The old saying that, “You can’t be too careful who your parents are!” still holds true.

Some people set the stage for a rusty brain by not using it. The brain, like muscles, is a “use it or lose it” piece of machinery. For instance, a study at Western Reserves School of Medicine revealed that those involved in intellectual pursuits such as playing an instrument or working on crafts or puzzles were four times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease.

What about those whose main activity is watching television? You guessed it! It results in a greater chance of suffering from Alzheimer’s later in life. Possibly nothing has contributed more to the “dumbing down” of North Americans than the “boob tube”. And I suspect that fewer people get Alzheimer’s Disease when they expand their minds by the daily reading of a newspaper.

Researchers at the University of Illinois showed that regular exercise decreases the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease possibly by increasing blood supply to the brain.

And get enough sleep. It’s hard to think straight if you’re tired.

I often ask my patients to put all their prescription drugs in a brown paper bag and bring them to me. Often the bag contains sedatives, drugs to fight depression or to help bladder control. All these drugs can have an adverse effect on memory.

But apart from all these factors there is a clear message here. We know that one person in five over 60 and two in five over 80 can’t absorb B-12 from food. So if you’re over 60 it’s vital to take a vitamin supplement.

But I believe that long before 60 it’s prudent to take a mixture of B vitamins that contains adequate amounts of folic acid, B1, B6 and B12. This preparation keeps the blood level of homocysteine low decreasing the risk of heart disease. And wondering where you left the keys.

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Dr. Gifford Jones  Bio
Dr. Gifford Jones Most recent columns

W. Gifford-Jones M.D is the pen name of Dr. Ken Walker graduate of The Harvard Medical School. He’s been a ship’s surgeon, hotel physician and family doctor and later trained in surgery at McGill in Montreal, University of Rochester N.Y. and Harvard. His medical column is published by 60 Canadian newspapers and several in the U.S. He is the author of seven books. Dr. Walker has a medical practice in Toronto. His Web site is: http://www.mydoctor.ca/gifford-jones

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