The B's Are Anti-Alzheimer's

As life expectancy in the United States continues to rise, so does the risk of Alzheimer's disease, an illness characterized by memory loss and plaques in brain tissue. Although only about 3 percent of men and women aged 65 to 74 have the disease, nearly half of all adults over age 85 exhibit symptoms. But perhaps Alzheimer's doesn't need to be that common. New research shows that getting your daily dose of B vitamins may help prevent this devastating disease.

The reason researchers think B's could make a difference is the connection between elevated levels of the amino acid homocysteine in the bloodstream and poor cognitive function. Boston University researchers studied 1,092 people with an average age of 76 for a decade and discovered that the participants' Alzheimer's disease risk almost doubled among those with high homocysteine levels (New England Journal of Medicine, 2002, vol. 346, no. 7). Researchers in Northern Ireland found similar results (Stroke, 2002, vol. 33, no. 10).

A daily dose of B vitamins may help prevent the debilitating Alzheimer's disease. Because B-vitamin supplementation—specifically with folic acid, B6, and B12—helps lower homocysteine levels by converting the amino acid into less-harmful substances, the B's could be crucial for Alzheimer's prevention. In fact, researchers in Stockholm, Sweden, tested this theory when they followed 370 people aged 75 and older for three years and discovered that subjects with low B12 or folic acid levels were twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's (Neurology, 2001, vol. 57, no. 9).

So if you hope to keep a lucid mind in later life, eat plenty of green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, beans, tuna, salmon, and bananas. Or take a vitamin supplement with 100 percent of the recommended intake of the three B's.

—Emily Rosenblum