When Memory Loss is not Alzheimer’s or Dementia: Vitamin B Deficiencies

By | August 23, 2013

We thought it would be useful to expand on other causes of memory loss that are not directly linked to Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia.

A surprisingly common source of memory loss symptoms is a Vitamin B-12 deficiency. Vitamin B-12 intake is necessary for healthy brain function and maintaining intact myelin sheaths (the protective covering around nerves.)

Signs of Vitamin B-12 deficiency can include:

    – memory loss and dementia symptoms
    – numbness and tingling of the arms and legs
    – difficulty with balance and walking
    – mood changes, especially depression

Several of these signs can occur even with “low normal” Vitamin B-12 blood test results. Also, many older adults have an impaired ability to absorb Vitamin B12 from dietary sources.

Vitamin B-1 (Thiamin) Deficiency

With the introduction of Vitamin B-1 (thiamin) fortified cereals and grains during the past few decades, cases of Vitamin B1 deficiency have declined significantly. Currently, the most common causes of Vitamin B-1 deficiency are chronic, acute alcoholism and anorexia. People with Crohn’s disease, and people on kidney dialysis are also at risk of Vitamin B-1 deficiency.

Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome is the typical result of alcoholism induced Vitamin B-1 deficiency. Symptoms include memory loss, impairment of reflex and motor functions, confusion and hallucinations. Infusion therapy with thiamin can reduce symptoms, but memory loss tends to remain in people with Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome.

The Institute of Medicine (part of the US National Academy of Sciences) recommends these daily intake levels for Vitamin B-12 and Thiamin:

Vitamin B-12: 2.4 mcg (micrograms)/day
Thiamin: 1.2 mg (milligrams)/day

In addition to dietary sources such as clams, fish, and beef liver, Vitamin B-12 intake can be supplemented by oral and sublingual pills, transdermal patch, nasal spray, and intramuscular injection.

See also Brain Health Primer on ways to keep your brain in good working condition.