Cognitive function, aging, and B vitamins.




J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci

Related Monographs

Consumer Data: Cognitive Function Vitamin B12 Vitamin B6
Professional Data: Cognitive Function Vitamin B12 Vitamin B6


Cognitive function is the term used to describe a person's state of consciousness (alertness and orientation), memory, and attention span. Awareness and thinking depend on organized thoughts, personal experiences, emotions, and mental processes, each existing in a special region of the brain. Self-awareness requires sensing this personal stream of thought and emotional experiences. Changes in a person's state of consciousness, such as with confusion, lethargy, and delirium, may be caused by many medical conditions including fever, ischemia (decreased blood supply), trauma, or brain diseases. It may also be caused by some drugs or toxins. Other causes are hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), azotemia (nitrogen waste products in the blood), liver failure, hypercalcemia (increased calcium in the blood), or a lesion that can develop at the base of the brain. A lack of vitamin B3 (niacin), which causes the disease pellagra, and vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) may cause spastic paraparesis (a type of paralysis), peripheral neuropathy (a condition affecting the nervous system), fatigue, irritability, and dementia.

Decreased cognitive function may also be due to decreased vitamin B12. This is a greater problem in elderly individuals since decreased vitamin B12 levels happen more often as a person with age. This indicates the importance of regularly checking B12 status in elderly individuals for deficiency. The use of vitamin B12 supplements in elderly individuals with mild mental changes may result in improved cognitive function and help slow down the beginnings of dementia that cannot be treated with much success at this time.1

The role of B vitamins, aging and cognitive function was the subject of a review in Adelaide, South Australia. Folate, and vitamins B6 and B12 deficiencies are thought to be somewhat common in the general population, and especially in the elderly. Recent studies have provided evidence for the role of B vitamins in regard to many aspects of cognitive performance. These studies have raised the attention to the possibility that nutritional differences may have a refined influence on the condition of cognitive function, particularly older adults. Some of the studies reviewed revealed the effectiveness of dietary supplementation in improving cognitive function in the elderly. The authors suggested that further research be conducted, using placebo-controlled intervention studies that would also investigate bioavailability and dose-response relationships.2


1. Cunha UG, et al. Vitamin B12 deficiency and dementia. Int Psychogeriatr. Spring1995;7(1):85-8.
2. Calvaresi E, Bryan J. B vitamins, cognition, and aging: a review. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. Nov 2001; 56(6):P327-39.