How Vitamin B12 Can Protect Your Mental Health

May 10, 2013

Protect Your Mental Health

by Jessica Velasco

When we are young, we don’t give a lot of thought to the possibility of our declining mental health.  We feel invincible; things like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease seem to be eons away.

However, our actions today can drastically affect our future health.  We need to be aware of possible health conditions and how they will influence our later years.  Those who have already advanced to the midlife phase need to know hope is not lost; there are still ways to prevent mental health decline.

Understanding The Role of Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is a water soluble vitamin found in animal products like meat, fish, eggs and milk.  It can also be found in nutritional supplements and vitamin fortified foods (like breakfast cereals and snack bars).

This vitamin plays a key role in the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system.  It is also responsible for the formation of blood.

If we fail to consume or absorb enough vitamin B12, we could experience a deficiency.  If left untreated, a vitamin B12 deficiency could have severe and irreversible effects on our overall health – especially the brain and nervous system.

Symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency range in severity.  In the beginning, nutrient deficient patients could feel tired, dizzy, and have an upset stomach.  As the condition worsens, patients might experience tingling in their fingers and toes, excessive mood swings, memory loss, depression, mania and psychosis.

If adequate levels are restored, the deficiency and undesirable conditions can be kept at bay.  Most doctors recommend vitamin B12 injections to treat a deficiency.  Other supplement methods – oral pills, sublingual drops or skin patches – aren’t as effective.  This is especially true for the older population who has trouble absorbing adequate amounts of the vitamin.

The Impact Vitamin B12 Has on Mental Health

Since vitamin B12 is directly responsible for maintaining optimal brain and nervous system health, it isn’t surprising to learn the vitamin can have long lasting health effects.

If a deficiency is left untreated, our mental health will obviously suffer.  However, people who have even just a minimal deficiency – levels just slightly lower than normal – can receive numerous benefits from vitamin B12 injections too.

Vitamin B12 plays an active role in the process that converts food to energy.  If this conversion isn’t happening properly, weight gain could occur.  Therefore, vitamin B12 is often used in conjunction with various weight loss methods.  If we are struggling with weight issues and failing to find the underlying cause, we can suffer severe mental distress.

Maintaining adequate levels of the nutrient can also help reduce cardiovascular risk and decrease the chance of heart disease.  Knowing our heart is in good health is always reassuring!

Additionally, regular vitamin B12 injections help people feel happier and think positively.  Higher levels of the nutrient are also responsible for improved memory and reaction time.

The Correlation Between Vitamin B12 and Alzheimer’s Disease

A recent study by Celeste de Jager, a neuropsychologist at Oxford University, revealed that large doses of vitamin B12 could slow the cognitive decline that is a precursor to dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Two hundred seventy men and women participated in the study.  Every individual was over the age of 70 and had mild cognitive impairment (memory, language and other mental functions had been minimally compromised).

Individuals with mild cognitive impairment were specially chosen for this study since the condition affects one in six of today’s elderly population.  Additionally, 50% of mild cognitive impairment patients develop Alzheimer’s within five years of onset.

Dr. de Jager reported that participants who took a combination of vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and folic acid showed surprising results.

Over the course of two years, this nutrient combination was responsible for reducing the overall shrinkage of the participants’ brains by 30%.  Patients who joined the study with elevated levels of homocysteine in their blood experienced shrinkage reduction of 50%.

The combination of these B vitamins and folic acid can help control the levels of homocysteine in our blood.  This amino acid, if left unchecked, can damage blood vessels by attacking the endothelial lining of blood cells.  It also binds to receptors in the brain which contributes to atrophy.

By keeping homocysteine levels in check, we can reduce cognitive decline and possibly prevent dementia.

No matter what your age or stage, it is never too late – or early – to starting thinking about the future.  Consider how simple things like vitamin supplements can improve your overall health.  Our mental health is one of the most valuable things we have; we need to do all we can to keep our brains functioning properly for as long as possible!

Image Credit: Wagner Cesar Munhoz