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What role do micronutrients play in treating neurological diseases? Image credit: nicolas_/Getty Images.
  • Micronutrients refer to all the vitamins and minerals a body needs to stay healthy and function correctly.
  • More than 2 billion people globally are micronutrient deficient.
  • Not getting enough micronutrients can place a person at risk for health issues.
  • Researchers from Charles University in the Czech Republic make the case that getting the proper amount of micronutrients may have some therapeutic value when it comes to treating neurological diseases.

Micronutrients are essential to a person’s overall health. The term refers to all the vitamins and minerals the body needs to function properly and stay healthy.

However, not everyone has access to all the micronutrients they need. Researchers estimate more than 2 billion people around the world have a micronutrient deficiency.

If a person has a micronutrient deficiency, they may put themselves at risk for health issues such as anemia, mental health issues, vision problems, pregnancy concerns, and the inability to fight off infections.

Past research shows that getting the proper balance of micronutrients can potentially help ward off health concerns like cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases, and cancer.

Now, researchers from Charles University in the Czech Republic are making the case that getting the proper amount of micronutrients may have some therapeutic value when it comes to treating neurological diseases.

Their review — which analyzed the results of several studies on micronutrients and neurological conditions — was recently published in the journal Nutrients.

There are four main types of micronutrients:

Since the body cannot produce micronutrients, they must be acquired by eating foods rich in vitamins and minerals or by taking dietary supplements.

The Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academies of Sciences Engineering and Medicine offers detailed guidelines on what a person’s daily micronutrient intake should be.

Neurological diseases affect the body’s central nervous system — which includes the spinal cord and brain — as well as the nerves.

A neurological disease can be caused by infections, genetic disorders, environmental factors, and nerve or spinal cord injuries.

There are currently more than 600 known neurological diseases, including:

Most neurological diseases currently cannot be cured. Doctors may prescribe medications, physical therapy, rehabilitation, and/or surgery to help alleviate disease symptoms.

The researchers who conducted this latest review of the literature stated that its aim was to provide a comprehensive overview of the the role of micronutrients in alleviating the symptoms of certain neurological conditions.

According to scientists, a micronutrient deficiency can lead to damage to the peripheral nerves, central nervous system, or both, which could ultimately lead to a neurological condition.

The review provided insights into which types of micronutrient supplementation might benefit specific neurological diseases.

For instance, in both Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, the review concluded that nutritional supplements of the vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, as well as folic acid, selenium, and zinc could help with symptom management.

With regard to Alzheimer’s disease, existing research showed that vitamin B12 could help stop tau proteins from forming into tau tangles, one of the commonly accepted causes of the condition.

The review authors state that levels of homocysteine, vitamin D, copper, and zinc should be closely monitored in people with Alzheimer’s. In people with Parkinson’s, levels of vitamins B6, D, E, and homocysteine should be checked regularly.

The review also provides recommendations for potentially therapeutic supplements and what micronutrients to monitor for other neurological conditions including ALS, Wilson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, myasthenia gravis, MS, epilepsy, ischemic stroke, and restless leg syndrome.

After reading this review, Dr. Clifford Segil, a neurologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, not involved in the analysis, told Medical News Today that, per his clinical practice, there are several settings where hypovitaminosis, or low levels of vitamins, cause neurological problems, and these are generally accepted.

However, he said we must be wary of claims that every neurological disorder might be treated through vitamin supplementation.

“I routinely check nutrient plasma levels including vitamin B12 in patients with memory loss and neuropathies, vitamin D (25-OH) levels in patients with multiple sclerosis, and copper levels in patients with movement disorders,” Dr. Segil told us.

“This is mainstream, evidence-based medicine and rewarding to treat when I [find] a patient unable to walk with a B12 deficiency as these patient’s neurological prognoses and treatments are rewarding,” he added.

However, he cautioned:

“This paper has many claims which are challenging for me to support as a clinical neurologist. It claims manganese may be affecting cholinergic neurons causing Alzheimer’s dementia. It claims vitamin C may reduce the toxicity of a Parkinson’s medication, levodopa, and conversely vitamin E may improve the function of dopamine in Parkinson’s patients. It also claims ALS patients would benefit from being given vitamin D and vitamin E.”

“I do treat migraine patients with riboflavin (vitamin B2) but would never tell one of my patients with ALS (that) obtaining more vitamin E or D is going to (be) beneficial,” he noted.

Dr. Segil also stressed that doctors should be aware that many neurological diseases may be caused by nutritional issues.

“Copper metabolism is related to a rare movement disorder called Wilson’s Disease and vitamin B12 deficiencies in vegetarians often cause sensory changes in [a] patient’s leg or neuropathy,” he continued. “These are uncommon in our current society with fortified foods and excess calorie consumption. Blood levels for vitamins should be part of every physician’s physical [exam].”

MNT also spoke with Dr. Neil Majmundar, cerebrovascular/endovascular neurosurgery director of neurosurgical education at Hackensack Meridian Jersey Shore University Medical Center, about this review.

He said that while the authors highlight the importance of a diet rich in micronutrients to neurological health, he also wished to emphasize that neurological disorders are complex entities with genetic, metabolic, and other underlying causes still to be discovered.

“While some disorders such as Wilson’s Disease and Huntington’s disease have a clear genetic relationship, others, such as ischemic stroke and neuropathy, are associated with modifiable risk factors,” Dr. Majmundar told us.

“Therefore, it is unrealistic to expect that increasing micronutrient intake alone can cure or prevent these diseases. Diet and exercise do [nevertheless] play a major role in reducing the risk of many disorders,” he continued.

Dr. Majmundar commented that the study strikes a delicate balance between highlighting the potential benefits of micronutrients while acknowledging the limitations of current research.

“It is a good resource for those interested in learning more about the complex relationship between micronutrients and key metabolic functions, understanding that micronutrient levels in the body are neither the cause nor the cure for these diseases,” he added. “We still have quite a way to go in terms of understanding the genetic and metabolic causes behind these diseases.”