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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Are athletes more prone than others to neurological disorders like Parkinson's?

"Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause unusual neurological symptoms such as tremor, gait disturbance, severe pain, and can mimic MS (multiple sclerosis) or even Parkinson's Syndrome. The physical signs and symptoms can often mimic other diseases and the diagnosis is frequently missed.

B12 deficiency damages the myelin sheath around the nerve fibers, this is a soft fatty insulating material which is also damaged in demyelinating diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

B12 deficiency can cause mental changes such as irritability, apathy, sleepiness, paranoia, personality changes, depression (including post-partum depression), memory loss, dementia, cognitive dysfunction or deterioration, fuzzy thinking, psychosis, dementia, hallucinations, violent behavior, in children; autistic behavior, developmental delay.

B12 deficiency can cause neurological signs and symptoms of abnormal sensations (pain, tingling, and/or numbness of legs, arms trunk or anywhere),diminished sense of touch, pain or temperature (may mimic diabetic neuropathy Charcot foot), loss of position sense, weakness, clumsiness, tremor, any symptoms which may mimic parkinson's or multiple sclerosis, spasticity of muscles, incontinence, paralysis, vision changes, damage to optic nerve (optic neuritis). "
Jeffrey Dach MD
Gary Moller comments:
On a number of occasions, I have wondered aloud if athletes who train and compete intensely for decades are more liable to develop neurological conditions like Parkinsons and Multiple Sclerosis than others? I have wondered this because I have seen more than a few very good athletes develop such conditions over the years. What each has in common, is extreme training and competition in events that push body and mind past normal limitations.

Is there a higher incidence of these nervous system diseases among athletes, or am I just imagining something that isn't there? The problem with rare diseases, is one must study very large populations, often over a long period of time, in order to be able to show anything that is statistically significant. The incidence of such diseases among athletes is probably no higher than what one would expect in any population, other than sub groups that take various forms of prescription and recreational drugs for long periods, or who participate in sports like boxing that cause repeated brain trauma.

One would expect health conscious athletes to be exceptionally well in this regard and such conditions would presumably be less than the general population.

Dr Geoffrey Dach may have offered a clue to a mechanism that might add credence to my observation that athletes may be more prone to these quite rare neurological conditions: Chronic Vitamin B12 deficiency.
Photo: Healthy sources of Vitamin B12

Athletes who continuously thrash their bodies need more vitamins than average - not less. B12 deficiency is common among atheltes. It is exceptionally common among athletes who are vegetarian. B12 is difficult to obtain in quantities if one does not eat red meat, particularly organ meat like liver. Atheltes are encouraged to consume more carbohydrates the more they exercise. This is often in the form of white bread, pasta (instant noodles), low fat dairy and sports drinks. One must ask: "Where are the vitamins and nutritional co-factors?" Of course, the answer is that they are mostly absent.

If an athlete has a genetic tendency towards conditions like MS, such as may be the case for people of Scottish ancestry, then risking a chronic B12 deficiency is hardly desirable. Although we still do not fully understand what may trigger diseases such as Parkinson's or Multiple Sclerosis, it makes sense to take a "Risk Reduction" approach, starting with ensuring that you get plenty of B vitamins into your body when under physical and mental stress. This may include a quality natural B Complex supplement that includes nutritional co-factors (Such as Kordel's Executive Super B) and a natural wholefoods diet that includes red meat and full fat dairy products.
Dietary Sources of Vitamin B12
The only reliable unfortified sources of vitamin B12 are meat, dairy products and eggs.

There has been considerable research into possible plant food sources of B12. Fermented soya products, seaweeds and algae have all been proposed as possible sources of B12. However, analysis of fermented soya products, including tempeh, miso, shoyu and tamari, found no significant B12.

Spirulina, an algae available as a dietary supplement in tablet form, and nori, a seaweed, have both appeared to contain significant amounts of B12 after analysis. However, it is thought that this is due to the presence of compounds structurally similar to B12, known as B12 analogues. These cannot be utilized to satisfy dietary needs. Assay methods used to detect B12 are unable to differentiate between B12 and it’s analogues, Analysis of possible B12 sources may give false positive results due to the presence of these analogues.

Researchers have suggested that supposed B12 supplements such as spirulina may in fact increase the risk of B12 deficiency disease, as the B12 analogues can compete with B12 and inhibit metabolism.

The current nutritional consensus is that no plant foods can be relied on as a safe source of vitamin B12.

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