On the Importance of B Vitamins

We’ve adapted this piece from the NYBC Info Sheet on Vitamin B12.

We can now update the Info Sheet with recent reports on the importance of the B vitamins for cognitive health, a specific concern for people with HIV, but also a general concern for people as they age: https://nybc.wordpress.com/2011/03/31/supplements-for-the-brain-and-nerves/

NYBC members often supplement with B-right B complex and/or with Methylcobalamin, a form of B12 that is better absorbed by the body than other forms of B12.

B-12 may play a very critical role in preventing HIV disease progression: a large Johns Hopkins University study found that people with HIV who are deficient in B-12 have a two-fold increased risk of progression to AIDS. In this study, those who were B-12 deficient progressed to AIDS four years faster than those who were not. The exact mechanism by which adequate B-12 in the body may slow progression is not known, but the finding is not surprising, given all the roles B-12 is known to play in healthy human function.

B12 and another B vitamin, folic acid, are critical to prevent or eliminate the often-overwhelming fatigue that so often accompanies HIV disease, as well as to help prevent some forms of neuropathy and brain and spinal cord changes. Maintaining adequate B12 levels also supports the bone marrow’s production of blood cells (crucial to prevent white and red blood cell decreases), and helps protect the heart.

There are countless anecdotal reports from people with HIV that using B-12 supplementation has dramatically improved their lives by its ability to reverse fatigue, often restoring normal energy to people who had previously been so exhausted that their daily functioning had been greatly affected. Many people have also reported significant improvements in memory and mental functioning, improvements that have made a huge difference in daily life. The possibility that B-12 supplementation might also help prevent or reverse the spinal cord changes that can have such devastating effects on some people is also very encouraging.

B-12 and folic acid should always be given together. Doses of B-12 (1000 mcg given daily via pills, or one to several times weekly via prescribable nasal gel or injections) and folic acid (800 mcg daily via pills) may be useful for restoring energy, treating neuropathy, protecting the heart, increasing overall feelings of well being, and boosting mental function (especially when combined with thiamin, niacin, and folic acid, since all four of these B vitamins are needed for normal neurological function) even when tests don’t indicate obvious deficiencies.

Deficiencies of B-12 can result in deterioration of mental function and neurologic damage that will yield such symptoms as memory loss, decreased reflexes, weakness, fatigue, disorientation, impaired pain perception, tinnitus (chronic ringing in the ears), neuropathy, burning tongue, and various psychiatric disorders. B-12 deficiency can also cause canker sores in the mouth, impaired bone marrow function, loss of appetite, and loss of weight, as well as impaired antibody responses to vaccines.

Folic acid deficiency can also cause fatigue and weakness, along with irritability, cramps, anemia, nausea, loss of appetite, diarrhea, hair loss, mouth and tongue pain, and neurological problems. In addition, folic acid deficiency is believed to play a role in the development of numerous and varied types of human cancers.

A combination of B-12 and folic acid deficiency can allow increases in blood levels of homocysteine, a chemical that can damage artery walls and contribute to heart disease.

One of the known causes of B12 deficiency is chronic viral illness with resulting poor gastrointestinal absorption. AZT use may contribute to deficiencies of both B-12 and folic acid. Many other drugs may worsen folate status in the body including TMP/SMX (Bactrim, Septra), pyrimethamine, and methotrexate (all three of which are folate antagonists), as well as phenytoin (Dilantin), various barbiturates, and alcohol (all of which block folate absorption). B-12 deficiency can also worsen folate levels in the body because B-12 is required to change folate into its active form.

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Can this omega-3 fatty acid make you think better?

We don’t often put up such a “believe it or not” / “popular science” sounding headline on this Blog, but here’s a rather neatly done scientific study from 2010 that seems to confirm those old sayings about fish being “brain food.”

University of Pittsburgh researchers recently reported on an interesting study about the connection between omega-3 fatty acids (such as those found in fish oil) and cognitive function. The research study followed 280 healthy adults, aged 35-54, and looked at how they performed on tests of nonverbal reasoning and working memory. Researchers found that those who registered higher blood levels of the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenonic acid (DHA) performed significantly better on these tests. They did not find any association between two other omega-3 fatty acids, a-linolenic acid (ALA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and mental performance measures. They conclude that “DHA is associated with major aspects of cognitive performance in nonpatient adults [up to 55 years old]. These findings suggest that DHA is related to brain health throughout the lifespan…”

Our comment: in recent years there have been several studies relating dietary intake of fish or omega-3 fatty acids and better early brain development and lowered risk of cognitive disorders in late life. (Also , higher fish oil/omega-3 fatty acids intake has been linked to lower rates of depression.) This 2010 study adds evidence that it is specifically DHA that delivers cognitive benefit such as improved reasoning and working memory.

Reference: Matthew Muldoon et al, Serum Phospholipid Docosahexaenonic Acid Is Associated with Cognitive Functioning during Middle Adulthood. The Journal of Nutrition – J. Nutr. 140: 848–853, 2010

NYBC stocks this supplement, which, as the tradename suggests, focuses on providing a substantial dose of DHA, the omega-3 fatty acid found to be effective in the Univ. of Pittsburgh study:

DHA Max (Jarrow)