Eat steak for a bigger brain in your retirement years
Bill Clinton had better watch out. He's gone vegan and I think I can already see his brain shrinking.
Politics aside, I'm not even kidding.
U.S. researchers recently discovered that one crucial vitamin protects your brain from shrinking in your retirement years. Yet you can only get this vitamin, naturally, through animal sources, such as meat, milk, and eggs. And clearly, Bill Clinton on his new vegan diet is not getting any of that!
Signs of brain shrinkage in less than five years
For this study, researchers took blood samples from 121 men and women over 65. They followed the volunteers over the next five years. At the end of this period, the researchers took brain scans for each of the volunteers.
They found that men and women with the lowest levels of vitamin B12 in the initial tests had clinically-significant brain atrophy by the end of the study. In other words, the folks with low B12 at the start of the study wound up with brain shrinkage by the end of it. Plus, they performed poorer on cognitive tests given at the end of the study.
The researchers said more study is needed before we can say that low B12 causes brain shrinkage...but there's definitely a connection. In fact, they point to an older study conducted by Oxford researchers in 2008.
In that study, men and women with higher blood levels of vitamin B12 were six times less likely to have brain shrinkage (compared to men and women with low levels).
A growing problem that's easily solved
Once you hit 60, it becomes important to know your B12 numbers.
According to Martha Clare Morris, ScD, co-author of the study and director of nutrition at Rush University Medical Center, "Insufficient vitamin B12 is very common in older people. The older we get we have a decreased ability to absorb vitamin B12 from our diet."
In addition, many common medications can impair your absorption of vitamin B12. These include:
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs like Nexium, Prevacid & Prilosec)
- H2 receptor antagonists (like Zantac, Pepcid & Tagamet)
- Metformin (diabetes medication)
Unfortunately, many older adults regularly use these very medications!
Take your B12 regularly for a fitter & fatter brain
Before I talk about how to take B12, remember this...
Always start with a good B-complex supplement. This will give you all the parts of the vitamin B family, not just B12.
Some evidence suggests that taking a vitamin B complex is the only way to go because it helps to remove homocysteine from the body. In fact, remember, another Oxford study I told you about from last year? Some of the men and women in that study who took a vitamin B-complex each day reduced their brain atrophy by a whopping 50 percent!
B12 is one of those vitamins, however, that you can take on its own without upsetting the balance of the whole family. So start with a B complex and then add some extra B12 if you and your doctor think you should.
As I told you last week, there are two common forms of man-made B12 on the market. Cyanocobalamin is the most common form. And despite internet rumors that you may have run across, it's completely safe to use.
Today, I mainly use methylcobalamin, another form of B12, when it's available. Your body absorbs this form more readily. It is more expensive, however.
Always go for sublingual forms that come in a dropper. You squeeze the liquid under your tongue. You can also look for B12 tablets that dissolve under your tongue.
Lastly, if you're over 60, remember to have your B12 levels tested regularly. Just ask your doctor to add it to your routine blood work.
Researchers from the University of Florida are even working on a new B12 breath test. You just breathe into a little tube right there in the doctor's office. Instantly, your doctor will know whether you have enough B12 to keep your brain healthy.
But, keep in mind that the test is only really valuable if your levels are clinically low. If your numbers come back "normal" it doesn't mean that you can't...or shouldn't...work on improving your values.
The fact is "normal" is simply a value arrived at by testing the public's numbers and not only is the range huge, but it also is likely on the low side. This is why it's so important to work with a trusted doctor or naturopath who can steer you in the right direction.
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About the author
Nationally acclaimed as America’s “Nutrition Physician,” Dr. Spreen has been helping people stay healthy and disease-free as a private doctor, published author, and noted researcher.
In addition to his role as a Senior Member of the prestigious Health Sciences Institute Advisory Panel in Baltimore, MD, Dr. Spreen also coaches diving at the international and Olympic levels. NorthStar Nutritionals is proud to have Dr. Spreen as our Chief Research Advisor.
Dr. Spreen also writes the Guide to Good Health.