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      Cobalamin deficiency, hyperhomocysteinemia, and dementia

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          Although consensus guidelines recommend checking serum B12 in patients with dementia, clinicians are often faced with various questions: (1) Which patients should be tested? (2) What test should be ordered? (3) How are inferences made from such testing? (4) In addition to serum B12, should other tests be ordered? (5) Is B12 deficiency compatible with dementia of the Alzheimer’s type? (6) What is to be expected from treatment? (7) How is B12 deficiency treated?


          On January 31st, 2009, a Medline search was performed revealing 1,627 citations related to cobalamin deficiency, hyperhomocysteinemia, and dementia. After limiting the search terms, all abstracts and/or articles and other references were categorized into six major groups (general, biochemistry, manifestations, associations and risks, evaluation, and treatment) and then reviewed in answering the above questions.


          The six major groups above are described in detail. Seventy-five key studies, series, and clinical trials were identified. Evidence-based suggestions for patient management were developed.


          Evidence is convincing that hyperhomocysteinemia, with or without hypovitaminosis B12, is a risk factor for dementia. In the absence of hyperhomocysteinemia, evidence is less convincing that hypovitaminosis B12 is a risk factor for dementia. B12 deficiency manifestations are variable and include abnormal psychiatric, neurological, gastrointestinal, and hematological findings. Radiological images of individuals with hyperhomocysteinemia frequently demonstrate leukoaraiosis. Assessing serum B12 and treatment of B12 deficiency is crucial for those cases in which pernicious anemia is suspected and may be useful for mild cognitive impairment and mild to moderate dementia. The serum B12 level is the standard initial test: 200 picograms per milliliter or less is low, and 201 to 350 picograms per milliliter is borderline low. Other tests may be indicated, including plasma homocysteine, serum methylmalonic acid, antiparietal cell and anti-intrinsic factor antibodies, and serum gastrin level. In B12 deficiency dementia with versus without pernicious anemia, there appear to be different manifestations, need for further workup, and responses to treatment. Dementia of the Alzheimer’s type is a compatible diagnosis when B12 deficiency is found, unless it is caused by pernicious anemia. Patients with pernicious anemia generally respond favorably to supplemental B12 treatment, especially if pernicious anemia is diagnosed early in the course of the disease. Some patients without pernicious anemia, but with B12 deficiency and either mild cognitive impairment or mild to moderate dementia, might show some degree of cognitive improvement with supplemental B12 treatment. Evidence that supplemental B12 treatment is beneficial for patients without pernicious anemia, but with B12 deficiency and moderately-severe to severe dementia is scarce. Oral cyanocobalamin is generally favored over intramuscular cyanocobalamin.

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          Homocysteine and risk of ischemic heart disease and stroke: a meta-analysis.

          It has been suggested that total blood homocysteine concentrations are associated with the risk of ischemic heart disease (IHD) and stroke. To assess the relationship of homocysteine concentrations with vascular disease risk. MEDLINE was searched for articles published from January 1966 to January 1999. Relevant studies were identified by systematic searches of the literature for all reported observational studies of associations between IHD or stroke risk and homocysteine concentrations. Additional studies were identified by a hand search of references of original articles or review articles and by personal communication with relevant investigators. Studies were included if they had data available by January 1999 on total blood homocysteine concentrations, sex, and age at event. Studies were excluded if they measured only blood concentrations of free homocysteine or of homocysteine after a methionine-loading test or if relevant clinical data were unavailable or incomplete. Data from 30 prospective or retrospective studies involving a total of 5073 IHD events and 1113 stroke events were included in a meta-analysis of individual participant data, with allowance made for differences between studies, for confounding by known cardiovascular risk factors, and for regression dilution bias. Combined odds ratios (ORs) for the association of IHD and stroke with blood homocysteine concentrations were obtained by using conditional logistic regression. Stronger associations were observed in retrospective studies of homocysteine measured in blood collected after the onset of disease than in prospective studies among individuals who had no history of cardiovascular disease when blood was collected. After adjustment for known cardiovascular risk factors and regression dilution bias in the prospective studies, a 25% lower usual (corrected for regression dilution bias) homocysteine level (about 3 micromol/L [0.41 mg/L]) was associated with an 11% (OR, 0.89; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.83-0.96) lower IHD risk and 19% (OR, 0.81; 95% CI, 0.69-0.95) lower stroke risk. This meta-analysis of observational studies suggests that elevated homocysteine is at most a modest independent predictor of IHD and stroke risk in healthy populations. Studies of the impact on disease risk of genetic variants that affect blood homocysteine concentrations will help determine whether homocysteine is causally related to vascular disease, as may large randomized trials of the effects on IHD and stroke of vitamin supplementation to lower blood homocysteine concentrations.
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            Homocysteine lowering with folic acid and B vitamins in vascular disease.

            In observational studies, lower homocysteine levels are associated with lower rates of coronary heart disease and stroke. Folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 lower homocysteine levels. We assessed whether supplementation reduced the risk of major cardiovascular events in patients with vascular disease. We randomly assigned 5522 patients 55 years of age or older who had vascular disease or diabetes to daily treatment either with the combination of 2.5 mg of folic acid, 50 mg of vitamin B6, and 1 mg of vitamin B12 or with placebo for an average of five years. The primary outcome was a composite of death from cardiovascular causes, myocardial infarction, and stroke. Mean plasma homocysteine levels decreased by 2.4 micromol per liter (0.3 mg per liter) in the active-treatment group and increased by 0.8 micromol per liter (0.1 mg per liter) in the placebo group. Primary outcome events occurred in 519 patients (18.8 percent) assigned to active therapy and 547 (19.8 percent) assigned to placebo (relative risk, 0.95; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.84 to 1.07; P=0.41). As compared with placebo, active treatment did not significantly decrease the risk of death from cardiovascular causes (relative risk, 0.96; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.81 to 1.13), myocardial infarction (relative risk, 0.98; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.85 to 1.14), or any of the secondary outcomes. Fewer patients assigned to active treatment than to placebo had a stroke (relative risk, 0.75; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.59 to 0.97). More patients in the active-treatment group were hospitalized for unstable angina (relative risk, 1.24; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.04 to 1.49). Supplements combining folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 did not reduce the risk of major cardiovascular events in patients with vascular disease. ( number, NCT00106886; Current Controlled Trials number, ISRCTN14017017.). Copyright 2006 Massachusetts Medical Society.
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              Prevention of neural tube defects: results of the Medical Research Council Vitamin Study. MRC Vitamin Study Research Group.

              A randomised double-blind prevention trial with a factorial design was conducted at 33 centres in seven countries to determine whether supplementation with folic acid (one of the vitamins in the B group) or a mixture of seven other vitamins (A,D,B1,B2,B6,C and nicotinamide) around the time of conception can prevent neural tube defects (anencephaly, spina bifida, encephalocele). A total of 1817 women at high risk of having a pregnancy with a neural tube defect, because of a previous affected pregnancy, were allocated at random to one of four groups--namely, folic acid, other vitamins, both, or neither. 1195 had a completed pregnancy in which the fetus or infant was known to have or not have a neural tube defect; 27 of these had a known neural tube defect, 6 in the folic acid groups and 21 in the two other groups, a 72% protective effect (relative risk 0.28, 95% confidence interval 0.12-0.71). The other vitamins showed no significant protective effect (relative risk 0.80, 95% Cl 0.32-1.72). There was no demonstrable harm from the folic acid supplementation, though the ability of the study to detect rare or slight adverse effects was limited. Folic acid supplementation starting before pregnancy can now be firmly recommended for all women who have had an affected pregnancy, and public health measures should be taken to ensure that the diet of all women who may bear children contains an adequate amount of folic acid.

                Author and article information

                Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat
                Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment
                Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment
                Dove Medical Press
                6 May 2010
                : 6
                : 159-195
                [1 ] Kansas University School of Medicine – Wichita, Wichita, KS, USA;
                [2 ] Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas, Pittsburg, KS, USA
                Author notes
                Correspondence: Steven F Werder, Community Health Center of Southeast, Kansas, 3011 N. Michigan Avenue, Pittsburg, KS 66762, USA, Tel +1 620 232 2500, Fax +1 620 232 2532, Email drwerder@
                © 2010 Werder, publisher and licensee Dove Medical Press Ltd.

                This is an Open Access article which permits unrestricted noncommercial use, provided the original work is properly cited.



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