Age related brain atrophy reduced with combination of B vitamins and fish oil

Your brain, like your muscles, starts to shrink as you age. This atrophy can lead to dementia and Alzheimer’s. This process can be inhibited by taking supplements containing B vitamins, researchers at the University of Oxford discovered. But the B vitamins only work if there are enough fish fatty acids such as DHA and EPA in your blood.

The researchers gave 85 people over the age of 70 a daily pill containing 800 microgram folic acid, 20 microgram vitamin B6 and 500 microgram vitamin B12, for two years. The supplement used was TrioBe Plus, manufactured by the Swedish company Recip AB. []

A group of 83 people over the age of 70 was given a placebo.

The researchers used MRI to measure the size of the subjects’ brain mass before supplementation started and at the end of the two years. The supplementation itself had no effect – but when the researchers also looked at the concentration of fish fatty acids in the subjects’ blood they noticed that there had been an effect. In the subjects who had relatively high levels of DHA and EPA in their blood, the B vitamins had reduced the decrease in brain mass.

Dark bars: placebo group; grey bars: vitamin B group.


“In conclusion, we have shown that the effect of B vitamin supplementation on brain atrophy rates depends on pre-existing plasma n-3 fatty acid concentrations”, the researchers wrote. “This finding could possibly explain why some B vitamin trials on brain function have failed.”

The researchers suggest that more research needs to be done in which elderly subjects are given both B vitamins and fish oil supplements.

The university where the researchers work has patents on the use of B vitamins to treat Alzheimer’s and age-related mental decline. [US 6008221 A] [US 6127370 A] [GB2010/051557] And the names of the researchers who worked on this study are mentioned in these patents.

Brain atrophy in cognitively impaired elderly: the importance of long-chain ?-3 fatty acids and B vitamin status in a randomized controlled trial.


Increased brain atrophy rates are common in older people with cognitive impairment, particularly in those who eventually convert to Alzheimer disease. Plasma concentrations of omega-3 (?-3) fatty acids and homocysteine are associated with the development of brain atrophy and dementia.

We investigated whether plasma ?-3 fatty acid concentrations (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid) modify the treatment effect of homocysteine-lowering B vitamins on brain atrophy rates in a placebo-controlled trial (VITACOG).

This retrospective analysis included 168 elderly people (?70 y) with mild cognitive impairment, randomly assigned either to placebo (n = 83) or to daily high-dose B vitamin supplementation (folic acid, 0.8 mg; vitamin B-6, 20 mg; vitamin B-12, 0.5 mg) (n = 85). The subjects underwent cranial magnetic resonance imaging scans at baseline and 2 y later. The effect of the intervention was analyzed according to tertiles of baseline ?-3 fatty acid concentrations.

There was a significant interaction (P = 0.024) between B vitamin treatment and plasma combined ?-3 fatty acids (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid) on brain atrophy rates. In subjects with high baseline ?-3 fatty acids (>590 ?mol/L), B vitamin treatment slowed the mean atrophy rate by 40.0% compared with placebo (P = 0.023). B vitamin treatment had no significant effect on the rate of atrophy among subjects with low baseline ?-3 fatty acids (<390 ?mol/L). High baseline ?-3 fatty acids were associated with a slower rate of brain atrophy in the B vitamin group but not in the placebo group.

The beneficial effect of B vitamin treatment on brain atrophy was observed only in subjects with high plasma ?-3 fatty acids. It is also suggested that the beneficial effect of ?-3 fatty acids on brain atrophy may be confined to subjects with good B vitamin status. The results highlight the importance of identifying subgroups likely to benefit in clinical trials. This trial was registered at as ISRCTN94410159.

© 2015 American Society for Nutrition.
Interaction of ?-3 fatty acids with B vitamins in slowing the progression of brain atrophy: identifying the elderly at risk. [Am J Clin Nutr. 2015]
PMID: 25877495 DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.114.103283 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE] Free full text