Vitamin B12, Folic Acid, & Choline May Protect An Aging Brain
With each passing year comes new experiences, memories, and relationships that shape how you think and move about the world. Because wisdom really does come with age.
Adopting healthy lifestyle habits (like eating an antioxidant-rich diet, moving your body regularly, and keeping alcohol intake low) can protect you against cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases.
Here’s what you need to know.
Methylation plays a big role
First, the study authors shed light on the role of one-carbon (1C) metabolism in aging processes. This is a broad term to describe the reactions in the body that regulate cell multiplication and stress resistance.
In the brain, 1C metabolism plays an important role in methylation, the breakdown of fats, and DNA repair.
Vitamin B12, folate (aka vitamin B9), and choline are all highly influential in these pathways—primarily through their role in the methylation of homocysteine to methionine.
So low intake levels of these nutrients (or poor absorption of them), can lead to high homocysteine levels and negatively impact the brain.
While these nutrients are found naturally in the diet, this new review summarizes the important role of supplementation for additional health benefits.
The synergy of vitamin B12 and folate
Optimal intake and blood levels of these nutrients can be challenging for people to maintain.
For vitamin B12, levels tend to decline from possibly eating less animal proteins, metabolic changes, and impaired absorption of the nutrient. Some research even shows the deficiency of this vitamin may exacerbate the loss of brain volume with aging—with greater loss seen in those with high homocysteine levels at the beginning.
Researchers are looking at the impact of both of these nutrients on brain health.
And when people with mild cognitive impairment received B12 and folic acid, they also had improved cognitive testing scores and decreased levels of inflammation compared to others and those who only took B12 or folic acid individually.
Choline may help with memory
Another study showed choline intake was linked to better verbal memory, visual memory, verbal learning, and executive function in older adults.
One way to protect your brain health as you age is to keep your homocysteine levels at the low levels they should be (ideally 15 mcmol/L or less).
Making sure you’re getting enough of these three essential nutrients in their most readily absorbable forms (aka folate as L-5-methyltetrahydrofolate and B12 as methylcobalamin) may be an effective way to protect your brain. Consider a high-quality multi with a built-in B complex (here are some of our top choices).
Molly Knudsen, M.S., RDN is a Registered Dietician Nutritionist and mindbodygreen's supplements editor. She holds a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Texas Christian University and a master’s in nutrition interventions, communication, and behavior change from Tufts University. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts and enjoys connecting people to the food they eat and how it influences health and wellbeing.