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How B vitamins improve cognitive function and prevent cardiovascular disease

Two of the most devastating conditions known to increase with the aging process are cardiovascular disease and loss of cognitive function. But scientists believe the many vitamins making up the vitamin B complex can help to prevent these afflictions.

Research has shown that folic acid, vitamin B12 and B6, for example, are particularly useful in maintaining cognitive function and a healthy heart. The good news is both diseases typically develop over the course of several decades, giving ample time to reverse the progression that leads to both diseases by following a healthy diet and supplement routine – which includes adequate levels of these important vitamins.

The link between low vitamin B levels and Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, but the third leading cause of death among the elderly, according to the National Institute on Aging. Even before symptoms are recognizable, it is believed that Alzheimer’s causes toxic changes in the brain.

This damage is primarily due to abnormal deposits of proteins causing plaque and unusual changes in fibers known as neurofibrillary tangles, which inhibit adequate cell transport of nutrients. The result is that once-healthy neurons begin to stop functioning, eventually dying off.

A shrinking brain triggers memory loss

Because initial damage often begins in the part of the brain responsible for forming memories, memory loss is typically associated with the onset of the disease. But eventually, other areas of the brain become affected and begin to shrink, ultimately leading to widespread brain damage.

The process of memory decline and brain shrinkage associated with Alzheimer’s disease is thought to occur over a 30 to 40 year period. Several comprehensive reviews of available published scientific findings on the progression of Alzheimer’s disease reveals that high levels of the toxic amino acid homocysteine as well as low folic and B12 levels in blood are associated with an increase in the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

The good news: Folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 are known to reduce levels of homocysteine. In fact, one such review involving 77 cross-sectional studies with 34,000 subjects and 33 prospective studies of more than 12,000 subjects showed an identifiable link between cognitive decline or dementia and levels of homocysteine and B vitamins.

B vitamins have a positive effect on cardiovascular health

Cognitive function is not the only disease that can be impacted by the vitamin B complex. An elevated level of homocysteine is also known to be a significant risk factor for development of cardiovascular disease. B vitamins 6, 12 and 9 are known to regulate levels of homocysteine.

When homocysteine is present in large amounts, the excess spills out of the cells and into the bloodstream. Once there, it can cause damage to arteries, increasing the risk of plaque build-up and development of atherosclerosis.

Researchers at Harvard found that high blood levels of homocysteine triples the likelihood of heart attack in some cases. It also greatly increases the chance of stroke and is known to be linked to other conditions, including atherosclerosis, erectile dysfunction, retinopathy, peripheral vascular disease and kidney disease.

The B vitamin riboflavin has been shown to work as an antioxidant, fighting free radicals and preventing early decline and development of heart disease. Riboflavin is also associated with red blood cell production, needed for adequate transport of oxygen throughout the body. Niacin, known also as vitamin B3, plays a role in heart health by supporting production of “good,” or HDL, cholesterol.

Are you getting enough of the vitamin B complex?

Just following the recommended daily allows (RDA) for B vitamins could leave your body severely lacking in these important vitamins. For example, the RDA for B12 for adults is a mere 2.4 mcg daily. Yet, Dutch researchers have shown that addressing even a mild B12 deficiency requires 300 to 500 times that much.

If you are otherwise healthy, consider a minimum daily dosage of 800 mcg of folic acid, 75 mg of vitamin B6 and 150 mcg of vitamin B12. If your homocysteine levels are high or you have shown signs of either of the diseases above, advance your dosage to 6,000 mcg of folic acid, 2,000 mcg of B12 and 125 mg of B6.

These higher doses are safe, although going beyond these recommendations to extremely high levels of vitamin B6 could cause nerve damage.

In terms of diet: Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate. You can increase your intake of folate by consuming more dark leafy greens, salmon, asparagus, beets, root vegetables, bulgur wheat and beans. Vitamin B6 can be found in chicken, turkey, salmon, lentils, sunflower seeds, brown rice and carrots, while you will find vitamin B12 in eggs, dairy, beef and fish.