“Sleeper cells”

Letter to the Editor of the Montreal Gazette. It appeared in the 2006-3-8 edition under the heading “Lack of vitamin B12 also causes lesions”.

The article “Brain’s ‘sleeper cells’ stalking boomers” (7 mar 2006) points out that white matter lesions in the brain predict stroke and dementia. It fails to mention that these white matter lesions may be indistinguishable on MRI from the lesions caused by vitamin B12 deficiency, a condition which is believed to affect between 20 and 30 percent of seniors. In most cases, this deficiency is caused by a failure to absorb dietary B12. While a vitamin B12 deficiency by itself may be responsible for memory loss and even dementia, low B12 can also raise levels of homocysteine, a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease and dementia.

Compounding the difficulty: the usual tests for vitamin B12 levels in the blood may not give an accurate picture of B12 status.

The respected Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States, recommends that every adult over the age of 50 get most of their B12 from synthetic sources such as vitamin supplements or fortified food. This seems a small price to pay for the possibility of staving off the insidious cognitive impairment that the article warns us about.

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