I recently was asked to review the blood work results of an octogenarian. He suffers from back pain, significant dementia, persistent anemia and apathy. He doesn’t move all day. He just lays on his bed. Yet just a few short years ago, he was a vibrant, upbeat individual. As a developmental optometrist, I see mostly children. So why would I review the blood work of an elderly individual and why would I know what to do about it?
Many patients suffer from hidden vision problems. These are problems that one would not think of as being a visual problem but are indeed found to have a visual cause, such as headaches, balance problems, reading and/or educational difficulties, poor memory or executive function, ADD, developmental delays, OCD, mood disorders etc. In addition to standard optometric testing, it’s important to uncover the underlying neurological problems that cause these perceptual dysfunctions by carefully analyzing specific blood tests that can explain why a child may be suffering from these symptoms.
Abnormally shaped red blood cells (RBC) indicate that an individual is suffering from an anemia that is not caused by low iron. Rather, if one has small RBC then he suffers from low B6 and if labs show high RBC characteristics then the individual has low B12 and/or folate.
Symptoms of Anemia
We usually think of anemia as a lack of iron and therefore associate anemia only with symptoms of fatigue. However, there are many additional symptoms when one suffers from an anemia of red blood cells being misshapen. Symptoms can include various mental and neurological symptoms as well as vascular and gastrointestinal problems.
The elderly man’s lab work indicated that he is suffering from abnormalities on his RBC. With lab findings that are so similar between an elderly patient with dementia and young patients with various neurologic problems, is it any wonder then that both those with Alzheimer’s and with autism may have difficulty with impulse control, sequencing and direction? Both use repetitive questioning and stories as a way of handling anxiety. Both need predictability and routine. Both struggle with controlling emotions and suffer from repetitive or incoherent speech, difficulty reading social cues, and fixating on objects.
In autism, connections in the brain that allow information to be transferred are missing. With Alzheimer’s, the connections were once there, and decline prevents the neurons from firing, from transferring information.
The Benefits of B Vitamins
Research has shown that both disorders bring about similar effects in the brain, and both involve synapses, which are the communications between nerve cells in the brain. Therefore, anything that would cause neurological impairment, such as low levels of critical B vitamins B12, B9 and B6, could cause these symptoms. And treating them appropriately—with specific supplements, in specific doses, within appropriate time frames—improves neurological functioning.
Studies have shown that treating individuals with low B12 who are suffering from dementia improves IQ, cognitive speed, orientation and moods. A series of trials showed that B12 slowed down Alzheimer's disease progression and significantly reduced the accumulation of beta-amyloid plaques, a cardinal feature of Alzheimer's. Likewise, studies using methyl-B12 for autism have shown great success.
Apparently there are many conditions that were previously thought of as being one’s fate due to genetics, but research has shown that our genes have the ability to turn themselves on and off. And what determines if they turn off and if our DNA can change itself? Among the big players are the important B vitamins mentioned here. It is therefore no wonder that those, both young and old, with various mental and neurological problems, have benefitted so dramatically from them. I am certainly counting on their remarkable abilities, because the elderly man whose labs I reviewed is my husband’s grandfather.
Symptoms of B12, B6, B9/Folate Deficiencies
Mental changes: irritability, apathy, personality changes, depression, dementia, forgetfulness, violent behavior and, in children, developmental delays and/or autistic behavior
Neurological signs and symptoms: pain, tingling and/or numbness of legs, arms and other areas, loss of awareness of body position, weakness in legs, arms, trunk or other areas, clumsiness, tremors, vision changes, paralysis, seizures, headaches
Vascular problems: transient ischemic attacks, cerebral vascular accident, heart attacks, congestive heart failure, palpitations, embolisms
Additional signs and symptoms: shortness of breath, generalized weakness, chronic fatigue, anorexia/loss of appetite, epigastric pain, gastrointestinal problems, failure to thrive in infants, tinnitus, prematurely grey hair, osteoporosis, increased risk of cancer and infertility
Dr. Michal Luchins, an optometric physician, runs the Family Vision & Learning Center in Suffern. She specializes in vision therapy and developmental optometry and incorporates orthomolecular nutrient treatment. Dr. Luchins can be reached at 369-3235, VisionAndLearning@gmail.com or visit Optometrists.org/DrLuchins.