Field Notes

Mild Vitamin B12 Deficiency Associated
With Accelerated Cognitive Decline

Being mildly vitamin B12 deficient could be an indication that some older adults are at a greater risk of accelerated cognitive decline, suggests an observational study from researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) at Tufts University.

Martha Savaria Morris, PhD, an epidemiologist in the Nutrition Epidemiology Program at the HNRCA, and colleagues examined data from 549 men and women enrolled in a cohort of the Framingham Heart Study, focusing on scores on the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), a short list of questions and tasks commonly used to screen for dementia. The subjects were divided into five groups based on their vitamin B12 blood levels.

Being in the two lowest groups was associated with significantly accelerated cognitive decline based on an analysis of test scores from five MMSE tests given over a period of eight years. The average age at baseline was 75.

“Men and women in the second-lowest group didn’t fare any better in terms of cognitive decline than those with the worst vitamin B12 blood levels. Over time, their MMSE scores declined just as rapidly,” Morris says. “Rapid neuropsychiatric decline is a well-known consequence of severe vitamin B12 deficiency, but our findings suggest that adverse cognitive effects of low vitamin B12 status may affect a much larger proportion of seniors than previously thought.”

In the August 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, Morris and colleagues wrote that MMSE scores dropped, on average, 0.24 points per year vs. an average drop of 0.35 points annually in the two groups with the lowest vitamin B12 blood levels. The authors observed an even steeper decline of about 1 point per year in some people in the two lowest groups who also exhibited high blood levels of folate or took supplements containing its synthetic form, folic acid, although their models indicate the additional cognitive decline is potentially related to other health problems in this particular study population.

The subjects in this study were mostly Caucasian women who had earned at least a high school diploma. The authors said future research might include more diverse populations and explore whether vitamin B12 status impacts particular cognitive skills, as the MMSE results provide only a general picture of decline.

“While we emphasize our study doesn’t show causation, our associations raise the concern that some cognitive decline may be the result of inadequate vitamin B12 in older adults, for whom maintaining normal blood levels can be a challenge,” says Paul Jacques, DSc, the study’s senior author and director of the Nutrition Epidemiology Program.

Animal proteins, such as lean meats, poultry, and eggs, are good sources of vitamin B12. Because older adults may have a hard time absorbing vitamin B12 from food, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that people over 50 incorporate B12-fortified foods or supplements into their diet.

— Source: Tufts University


Organic Labels May Not Always Mean Something Positive

Labeling food as “organic” may not always lead to a positive impression, according to a recent Cornell University study.

The research, recently published online in Appetite, flips the notion of a “halo” effect for ethical food labels. A halo effect refers to a phenomenon where a label leads consumers to have a positive opinion—and in the case of an organic label, a healthful impression—of those foods.

This research finds that such positive impressions are partly based on a consumer’s personal values. The two-part study found that some conditions can produce a negative impression of organic labels among consumers because of the consumer’s values.

In the first part, Jonathon Schuldt, PhD, an assistant professor of communication at Cornell, and Mary Hannahan, a student at the University of Michigan, asked 215 students whether they thought organic food was healthier and tastier than conventional food. While most agreed that organics were a healthful choice compared with conventional food, fewer expected organic food to taste good by comparison. This latter finding was especially true for participants who had low concern for the environment.

“The personal values of the rater mattered,” Schuldt says. “Our data suggest that when organic practices don’t appeal to a consumer’s values, they expect organic food to taste worse.”

In part two of the study, the researchers explored whether there were contexts in which people who were proenvironment might have a negative impression of organic labels. Here, 156 participants read one of two versions of a fake news article that discussed the development of “a highly engineered drink product designed to relieve the symptoms of African children suffering from severe malnutrition,” according to the study.

To convey the artificial, engineered aspect of the beverage, the article described the drink—named Relief drink 1.1—as a formula that resulted from a collaboration between scientists and the food industry. In one version of the news article, the engineered drink was described as organic every time the drink was mentioned. The other version never mentioned the word organic. Participants were randomly assigned one version of the news story or the other.

The results showed that participants who were highly proenvironment judged the organic version of the drink to be less effective compared with the nonorganic version.

“It’s a reminder that the halo effect hinges on the values of the perceiver,” Schuldt says. “It’s not the case that you can label a food organic and expect that everyone will perceive it more positively. Under certain circumstances, ethical labels could have an unintended backfire effect.”

Future research may involve taste tests of organic and conventional foods to see whether personal values influence a taster’s perceptions when actually eating a food, Schuldt adds.

— Source: Cornell University