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Ask Dr. Gott 6/8

Is B-12 deficiency causing dementia?

    DEAR DR. GOTT: I am writing to you concerning vitamin B-12 deficiency and Alzheimer's disease. I am concerned because my mother is well into the stages of Alzheimer's, and her mother also had this terrible disease. We did, however, find out my mom is B-12 deficient, for which she has been started on monthly injections within the last six months. I also have a 27-year-old niece who is on monthly B-12 injections. Her doctor says there is new information on acceptable B-12 levels, and not all doctors are up to date on the topic and that the levels are higher than in previous studies. Now my sister (mother of this niece) has had her levels checked, and it was in the low 200s. I also have had mine checked, and it is at 289. I am 35 years old. These numbers seem low to me, being the older studies show acceptable at 200 to 900. What is your opinion on B-12? This is becoming an issue due to the Alzheimer's within our family, since there is some link between them.
    DEAR READER: A low vitamin B-12 level does not lead to Alzheimer's disease; however, it can cause or accentuate dementia. The good news is that B-12-induced dementia is reversible (for the most part) by using supplements, either oral or by injection. The oral form of B-12 is available over the counter. For people with deficient B-12 levels, this is an excellent first step. However, the oral vitamin form may not be absorbed as readily as the injectable form.
    According to the book "Could It Be B12?" by Sally M. Pacholok and Jeffrey J. Stuart, B-12 deficiency is much more common than previously thought. They suggest that undiagnosed B-12 deficiency is partly to blame for a multitude of problems, such as Alzheimer's, pre-Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, autism, infertility, depression and more. They go on to say that blood serum B-12 levels are inaccurate and that more sophisticated testing is needed on an annual basis to monitor B-12 levels in everyone from infants to senior citizens. They are in no way saying B-12 is to blame for every case of these disorders, but they do suggest that a portion of the sufferers are simply misdiagnosed.
    Occasionally, folic-acid deficiency can occur in conjunction with B-12 deficiency or alone. This can also result in accentuated dementia symptoms or reversible dementia. Folic-acid deficiency can also hide B-12 deficiency but will not relieve or reverse the symptoms. Folic acid supplements may be necessary.
    If your mother improves with her monthly B-12 injections, it is possible that she does not have Alzheimer's and is merely suffering the effects of years of undiagnosed B-12 deficiency. It is also possible that she has both conditions and that dementia appears worse as a result of the low B-12. Research is still being conducted in both fields because their causes are unknown.
    Finally, I recommend that you and your mother be tested for B-12 deficiency and pernicious anemia (the autoimmune form of B-12 deficiency) by a hematologist. You may need to be persistent because most physicians still do not think of B-12 immediately. I would rather have you both tested thoroughly and have negative results than to have a problem that is not diagnosed until it is too late.
    Readers interested in obtaining a copy of "Could It Be B12?" can purchase the book directly from the publisher online at www.quilldriverbooks.com or by phone at 800-605-7176.

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