Alzheimer's & Mental Health News for Senior Citizens

Alzheimer's & Mental Health News

Senior citizens improve learning, memory with vitamin B, omega-3

senior citizens opens vitamin bottleVitamin B known to prevent memory loss; international research participants age 70 and older

Jan. 19, 2016 – Learning and memory can be improved in senior citizens age 70 and older by vitamin B supplements, when the seniors also have a high level of omega-3 fatty acid in their blood stream, according to a study published yesterday in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, a U.K. publication.

Previous research has shown that B vitamin supplements can help slow mental decline in senior citizens with memory problems, but this works even better if your body has higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, according to this research by an international team of scientists.

The team, from the Universities of Cape Town, Oslo, Oxford and the UAE, studied more than 250 people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) in Oxford. MCI is when brain function is below what is normally expected for a person’s age but is not significant enough to interfere with daily life. While it is not as serious as dementia, if untreated it often progresses to become dementia.

Vitamin B already know to prevent memory decline

The B vitamins are

  • B1 (thiamine)

  • B2 (riboflavin)

  • B3 (niacin)

  • B5 (pantothenic acid)

  • B6

  • B7 (biotin)

  • B12

  • Folic acid

These vitamins help the process your body uses to get or make energy from the food you eat. They also help form red blood cells. You can get B vitamins from proteins such as fish, poultry, meat, eggs, and dairy products. Leafy green vegetables, beans, and peas also have B vitamins. Many cereals and some breads have added B vitamins.

 “We previously found that B vitamins are able to slow or prevent the atrophy of the brain and memory decline in people with MCI. This was most effective in those who had above average blood levels of homocysteine, a factor related to B vitamin status that may be toxic to the brain,” said Dr. Celeste de Jager.

“Scientists in our team initially found that there was a link between Omega-3 levels, homocysteine, and brain atrophy rates. We wanted to find out whether Omega-3 and B vitamins might interact to prevent cognitive decline.’

At the start of the study, each person was given a set of tests to measure their cognition, and had a blood test to determine their levels of two Omega-3 fatty acids commonly found in oily fish: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

The participants were split into two randomly-selected groups, who received either a B vitamin (folic acid, vitamins B6 and B12)supplement or a placebo pill over two years. Their cognitive performance was also measured and the results compared with the baseline results from the start of the study.

 “We found that for people with low levels of Omega-3, the vitamin supplements had little to no effect. But for those with high baseline Omega-3 levels, the B vitamins were very effective in preventing cognitive decline compared to the placebo,” said Dr Abderrahim Oulhaj.

“This result compliments our previous finding that B vitamins slow the rate of brain atrophy in MCI only in those with a good Omega-3 level to start with.”

The team also found that levels of DHA might be more important than levels of EPA, although they caution that more research must be done to establish whether this is true.

“The next stage will be to see whether providing a combination of B vitamins and Omega-3 supplements can slow the conversion from MCI to Alzheimer’s disease,” according to Professor David Smith.


“This would be an important step in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. We have high hopes that this trial would work but funding is not easy to obtain for such studies.”

Dr. Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer’s Society said, “These results help us to tease apart who could benefit from taking B vitamins, suggesting that they might only improve cognition in people who have high levels of Omega-3 oils in their blood.

“Encouragingly, these findings suggest that for some older people a combination of fish oil supplements and B vitamins may help to improve thinking and memory.

“As this study shows, the relationship between nutrition and brain health is complex and we need to see increased research efforts to help us understand the role that diet and nutrition can play in reducing a person’s risk of dementia.”

The paper, Omega-3 fatty acid status enhances the prevention of cognitive decline by B vitamins in Mild Cognitive Impairment, is published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease (doi:10.3233/JAD-150777).

The Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing – OPTIMA – has a mission to advance the understanding of the causes, treatment and prevention of dementia in the context of providing support and education for research participants and caregivers. It recruited its first participants in 1988 and over time has collected a wealth of information and samples that can be used by dementia researchers. More about OPTIMA…

Further information - How could I reduce my risk of dementia? 


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