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Poor vitamin B12 status impacts brain volume and function

Poor vitamin B12 status impacts brain volume and function

Tuesday, September 27, 2011. The September 27, 2011 issue of the journal Neurology® reveals an association between unfavorable serum markers of vitamin B12 status and reduced brain volume and cognitive function.

The current investigation was limited to 121 participants in the Chicago Health and Aging Project who had magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of their brains performed several years after undergoing tests of cognitive function. The tests included seven measures of episodic memory, two measures of visuospatial ability or perceptual organization, two measures of perceptual speed, two measures of semantic memory, and three measures of working memory. Stored serum samples were analyzed for vitamin B12 and the vitamin B12 markers methylmalonic acid (MMA), 2-methylcitric acid, homocysteine and cystathionine (generated from homocysteine).

While serum vitamin B12 itself was not associated with cognitive function or measures of brain volume, other indicators of vitamin B12 insufficiency were associated with poor global cognitive test scores and a decrease in brain volume revealed by MRI findings compared to those with better B12 status. When individual cognitive domains were analyzed, decreased episodic memory and perceptual speed were associated with an increase in methylmalonic acid (which is elevated in 90 to 98 percent of men and women with a vitamin B12 deficiency), and poorer episodic and semantic memory were correlated with greater 2-methylcitric acid and cystathionine levels. Higher levels of the vitamin B12 markers, but not serum vitamin B12, were associated with decreased total brain volume, and higher homocysteine levels were associated with greater white matter hyperintensity volume, which is associated with an elevated risk of cerebrovascular events.

Concerning the lack of an association between serum vitamin B12 itself (as opposed to B12 markers) and cognitive function or brain volume, lead author Christine C. Tangney, PhD, of Rush University Medical Center remarked that low levels of vitamin B12 can be challenging to detect in older individuals when only serum vitamin B12 is measured. "Marginal vitamin B12 status in older age is frequently missed by measurement of serum vitamin B12 levels alone," Dr Tangney and her colleagues write. "Our findings suggest that MMA, the specific marker of B12 deficiency, may affect cognition by reducing total brain volume whereas the effect of homocysteine on cognition may be mediated through increased white matter hyperintensity volume and cerebral infarcts."

"Our findings definitely deserve further examination," Dr Tangney said. "It's too early to say whether increasing vitamin B12 levels in older people through diet or supplements could prevent these problems, but it is an interesting question to explore. Findings from a British trial with B vitamin supplementation are also supportive of these outcomes."

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Soy peptide aids in blocking metastasis

Soy peptide aids in blocking metastasis

An article published online on September 10, 2011 in the journal Cancer Letters describes the discovery of Elvira Gonzalez de Mejia and Vermont P. Dia of the University of Illinois in Urbana of a benefit for lunasin, a peptide that occurs in soy, in preventing the spread of colon cancer to the liver, the predominant site of metastasis for this type of cancer. "When lunasin was used in combination with the chemotherapy drug oxaliplatin, we saw a sixfold reduction in the number of new tumor sites," revealed Dr de Mejia, who is an associate professor of food chemistry and food toxicology at UI.

The current study utilized mice bred to develop colon cancer that metastasizes to the liver. The researchers divided the animals to receive daily injections of lunasin, lunasin plus the chemotherapy drug oxaliplatin, oxaliplatin alone or neither compound. "The group that received lunasin alone had 50 percent fewer metastatic sites," reported Dr de Mejia. "But an even more exciting result was seen in the group that received both lunasin and the chemotherapy drug—only 5 new cancer sites when compared with 28 in the control group."

"This huge reduction in metastasis was achieved with the amount of lunasin in only 25 daily grams of soy protein, the amount recommended in the FDA health claim," noted Dr Dia, who is a University of Illinois postdoctoral fellow. "In this study, we have learned that lunasin can penetrate the cancer cell, cause cell death, and interact with at least one type of receptor in a cell that is ready to metastasize."

"Two glasses of soy milk a day generally provide half the amount of lunasin used in our study," Dr de Mejia remarked. "It certainly seems feasible to create a lunasin-enriched product that people could consume in a preventive way."

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