Maintaining proper nutrition is essential for optimal health. Our bodies need more than 30 vitamins and minerals to operate, with these nutrients supporting a host of processes including:
- Tissue production and regeneration
- Red blood cell production
- Nerve signaling
- Formulating chemical messages
While getting adequate amounts of these vitamins and minerals is important for supporting key body-wide mechanisms on a daily basis, it’s also critical for safeguarding our future health. Nutrition helps us minimize the risk of many serious conditions, one of which is dementia.
Can Nutritional Deficiencies Cause Dementia?
In some elderly patients, healthy dietary practices aren’t always closely followed. This can lead to certain nutritional deficiencies, which can actually cause cognitive impairment over time. Research shows certain forms of dementia can be a direct result of deficiencies in specific vitamins, minerals, or other nutrients. Here are a few nutrients in particular that are necessary for cognitive function:
- Vitamin B12: Without ample B12, the frontal lobes of the brain become altered, resulting in cognitive or behavioral changes. The vitamin, therefore, supports brain health while playing an important role in maintaining healthy blood and nerve cells. It also aids in the production of DNA. Animal food sources are often rich in B12, including dairy and meat.
- Niacin: B3 or niacin helps to control cholesterol levels. Elderly individuals are especially at risk of developing pellagra, a B3 deficiency characterized by dementia, dermatitis, and diarrhea. Enriched cereals, seeds, poultry, and redfish are good sources of the vitamin.
- Thiamin: Also known as vitamin B1, a deficiency in thiamin can cause damage to the nerves and muscles, including the heart. Thiamin also has such a profound effect on cognitive function that some researchers speculate the vitamin could benefit Alzheimer’s patients, but further studies are needed to support this theory. Thiamin is commonly found in eggs, nuts, seeds, beef, and enriched grain products, such as cereals.
In addition, insufficient hydration can lead to nutrition-oriented dementia.
Beyond cognitive symptoms, nutritional deficiencies may also manifest physically in the following ways:
- Sensorimotor challenges
- Poor reflexes
- Extreme thirst
- Numbed sense of touch
- Gastrointestinal issues
Fortunately, these and other nutrition-oriented symptoms can be avoided with a healthy, well-rounded diet. In addition, certain individuals may benefit from supplements if key nutrients can’t be acquired through diet alone. Talk to your doctor if you think you could benefit from a supplement regimen.