Tuesday 5 October 2010

Vitamin B

Folks with memory problems have some B vitamins checked before ever reaching my door. Vitamin B12 (and folic acid, and LFTs showing albumin levels) evidence nutrition, or lack of nutrition.

If patients have evidence of vitamin deficiency, it's usually treated by their GP before I assess the patient, so assessment of mood and cognition is looking at contributing mental health problems, not nutritional deficits impacting on their wellbeing.

Recently patients' carers have been asking me about vitamin B preventing/slowing Alzheimer's disease. It's not something I know a lot about. I know a lot about Alzheimer's disease, the risk factors, the pathology that develops within the brain, the evidence of psychological interventions and the evidence of medication's efficacy and effectiveness. I know that about 8% of patients referred to me with dementia have something else instead, so routinely find physical health problems presenting with cognitive impairment.

In all this thinking and sleuthing stuff out, I was perturbed that vitamins could have great benefit to my patients but none of my colleagues knew of this, no current teaching articulated this, no past training covered this and no journal articles and updating continuing professional development taught this. My pharmacist colleagues knew naught of this, either. Perplexing.

I spent a few hours finding what I could. A pharmacist did the same. We met up and compared notes. We'd not found anything illuminating.

I chanced upon another blog today for the first time, which helpfully fisks the rubbish being tossed around in some main stream media. It's heartening that it's not just me and my clinical team that's not wondrously excited by vitamin B.

When patients ask about it, I'm indifferent. It's cheap, it's water soluble (so, unless really really trying hard, if you take too much it is dissolved in our urine and we just wee it out) but it's also not convincingly beneficial. If it's taken with minerals (like iron) then it's not that hard for folk with dementia to poison themselves.

It's not crystal therapy or colour healing. Not quite. It could have some sensible contribution beyond placebo effect. If people want to take vitamin B, all well and good. But it's not something my GPs or I'm prescribing for folk with dementia, yet.

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