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B vitamins may boost cognitive ability in older adults: Study

By Stephen Daniells , 19-Feb-2016
Last updated on 19-Feb-2016 at 17:03 GMT2016-02-19T17:03:23Z

Image: iStockPhoto / SIphotography
Image: iStockPhoto / SIphotography

Supplementation with vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid may improve cognitive function in older people with mild cognitive impairment, says a new study from Korea.

Twelve weeks of daily consumption of the B vitamin supplements were also associated with lower levels of depression and decreased levels of the amino acid homocysteine, report scientists from Suwon Women's University in GyungGi-do and Kyung Hee University in Seoul in the PubMed listed Journal of Nursing Scholarship .

Commenting on the practical implications for nursing, the researchers wrote: “Vitamin supplement intake as a nursing intervention can be applied to improve cognitive function, decrease serum homocysteine levels, and alleviate depression in elderly people in aged care facilities.

“Furthermore, the results of this study could be utilized to decrease the incidence of cognitive disorders or depression in elderly people in aged care facilities, and could help them better adapt to such facilities and have a better quality of life through vitamin supplement intake.”

B vitamins and homocysteine

The study supports a hypothesis that increased concentrations of the amino acid are linked to a higher rate of wasting in the brain, or atrophy, and therefore mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

Other epidemiological studies have reported that high levels of homocysteine are associated with suspected or confirmed dementia. Indeed, the Framingham study reported that people with homocysteine levels above 14 micromoles per liter of serum had twice the risk of dementia.

Tissue and plasma concentrations of homocysteine are known to be determined by vitamin B status, as they are cofactors for enzymes involved in homocysteine metabolism.

However, intervention studies with B vitamins have yielded disappointing results in people with MCI or dementia.

The new study suggests there may be potential for B vitamins to impact homocysteine levels and cognitive function in the elderly.

Study details

Image © iStockPhoto

The Korean researchers recruited 48 people with MCI over the age of 65 living in care facilities and randomly divided them into two groups: One group received the B vitamin supplements and the other received placebo. The researchers do not disclose either the B vitamin doses used or the manufacturer of the product used.

Results indicated that after twelve weeks of intervention, participants in the B vitamin group had significantly higher scores on the Mini Mental State Examination-Korean test compared to the control group.

Significant improvements were also observed on the Geriatric Depression Scale Short Form Korea Version test for the B vitamin group, compared with the control. Serum homocysteine levels were also significantly improved in the B vitamin group.

“The correlation between the serum homocysteine level and impaired cognitive function is still controversial, according to various studies,” wrote the researchers. “Some studies claimed that the influence of the serum homocysteine level on impaired cognitive function decreased after age adjustment, presenting impaired cognitive function as just one of the symptoms of aging.

“The result of this study confirmed, however, that vitamin supplement intake was an effective intervention for cognitive function improvement in elderly people with MCI in aged care facilities.

“In future studies, to confirm the effects more objectively in elderly people with MCI in aged care facilities, the long-term intake of vitamin supplements and the repetitive evaluation of improvement at various time points should also be conducted as a nursing interventional study.”

Source: Journal of Nursing Scholarship
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1111/jnu.12201
“Effects of Multivitamin Supplements on Cognitive Function, Serum Homocysteine Level, and Depression of Korean With Mild Cognitive Impairment in Care Facilities”
Authors: H.K. Lee, S.Y. Kim, S.R. Sok 

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