We’re all so preoccupied with getting enough Vitamin A for good vision and Vitamin C to prevent scurvy-related symptoms that the B vitamins seem left out. In reality, the family of B vitamins is responsible for maintaining a wide assortment of physiological events. In particular, low levels of B12 have been recently shown to correlate with increased brain atrophy in older individuals.
This study, published in Neurobiology, does not actually outline a causal relationship between B12 and brain atrophy; however, I surmise future studies will begin to verify what this initial observation is leaning towards. Vitamin B12 is an exception to the “water-soluble” nature of the other B vitamins as well as Vitamin C. Rather than excess vitamin being flushed out of the body, B12 actually gets stored in the liver, kidney, and other tissues. Therefore, a simple urine test is typically not the best way to determine B12 deficiency, as it would take a significant amount of time for the vitamin to exit one’s body.
As a person who loves the workings of organic chemistry, B12 is very interesting in its structure. B12, also known as cobalamin, is one of the few instances of a stable organometallic compound in the body (in this case, a stable carbon-cobalt bond). Furthermore, deficiencies can be attributed to the work that must be put forth to absorb the vitamin. Rather than simply being absorped in the intestinal lining, intrinsic factor from the parietal cells of the stomach (the same cells which secrete HCl for digestion) must be used to facilitate absorption.
Though the study doesn’t show a direct relationship between B12 levels and brain atrophy, taking note of your vitamin B intake would be prudent. This is of particular importance to vegetarians and lactating/pregnant women as their vitamin levels can be drastically skewed. Good sources of B12 include the following:
- Fortified cereals
- Vitamin supplements (my personal favorite 🙂 )