Eggs seemingly come in and out of ‘health-food’ fashion every decade. Once thought to be a source of unhealthy cholesterol, new evidence supports the notion that eggs, in their entirety, are a cost-effective source of protein and fatty acids that help to keep you full for longer periods of time. Versatile enough to be used in just about any meal of the day, there is evidence to suggest that the vitamin B nutrients contained in eggs can contribute to brain health as we age.
Even in the healthiest of brains, the aging process can take a toll on the structure and function of the many intricate networks of brain cells. This aging process results in the development of brain atrophy – or the loss of brain cells. While atrophy can be the result of many different ailments that impact the brain, like stroke or dementia, progressive atrophy is seen to some degree in all aging brains.
The distinction in diseases like Alzheimer’s Dementia, is the rate at which atrophy occurs. Since the rate of brain atrophy is an important marker of progression to cognitive impairment and dementia, there is ongoing research to identify factors that can reduce the rate of atrophy and in turn, slow the progression to advanced dementia. A 2010 article by Smith et al., published in PLoS ONE sought to determine whether the body’s retention of B vitamins (ie. Vitamin B6, B12, and folate) influenced the rate of atrophy in the brains of elderly individuals with mild dementia symptoms.
The B vitamins were chosen for this study because they are known to play a role in supporting the metabolism of homocysteine, a common amino acid (protein building block) found in the blood. Homocysteine is formed when we ingest proteins, like meat, and they are digested. It has been previously demonstrated that high levels of homocysteine are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and dementia. Not only in Alzheimer’s dementia, but in the healthy elderly population, homocysteine levels are associated with greater degree of brain atrophy.
In this study, the authors recruited patients greater than 70 years of age who had a pre-existing diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment, or mild dementia. Participants were randomized to receive either high doses of supplementary vitamin B or a placebo and over the course of 2 years, were followed through blood testing of homocysteine levels and by MRI scans to detect changes in brain atrophy.
Over the duration of the study, the authors found that in the group who received vitamin B supplements, there was a 31% reduction in blood homocysteine levels in comparison to the placebo group. Clinically, this was accompanied by a reduction in the rate of atrophy by nearly 30%.
Even more profound effects were demonstrated in participants with higher baseline homocysteine levels and more significant dementia symptoms. Importantly, the group receiving B vitamins did not encounter any safety concerns or adverse events because of their treatment, suggesting that vitamin supplementation may be not only effective, but also a safe means to reduce the rate of atrophy as we age.