Vitamin Deficiency Linked To Stroke and Plaque Buildup in Carotid Arteries

A study published in the the Canadian Medical Association Journal revealed that people low in vitamin B12 had an increase risk of a fatal heart attack and stroke.

The study focused on the relationship between homocysteine, B-12 and carotid artery plaque.

The study showed that higher blood levels of B vitamins are related to lower concentrations of homocysteine leading to decrease plaquing in the carotid arteries. However, an elevated blood homocysteine level revealed a strong risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

How the Study was Conducted The study examined 421 people with the average age being 66. Vitamin B12, homocysteine levels and degree of plaque in the carotid arteries (via ultrasound) were evaluated.

The Results

Seventy-three patients (17%) had vitamin B12 deficiency with significant elevation of homocysteine. In addition and most important, carotid plaque was significantly larger among the group of patients who had deficiency of vitamin B12 In conclusion, the authors found that low blood vitamin B12 levels are a major cause of elevated homocysteine levels and increased carotid plaque area.


There are a variety of causes of vitamin B12 deficiency. The most obvious is malnutrition and a lack of vitamin B12 in the diet. Vegetarian diets in general are considered to be healthy, however there are several nutrients that even the best vegetarian diets are lacking. One of the most common is vitamin B12.

A lack of B12 is not the most common cause of B12 deficiency. Even if you are eating enough of it, sometimes poor digestion within the small intestine and utilization (getting the nutrients to the intended target) results in decreased levels of B12.

Another known cause of vitamin B12 is chronic alcohol use, even if you are getting enough through food. Alcohol causes metabolic changes within the gut making it difficult to absorb B12 and other needed nutrients. Alcohol also raises our homocysteine levels (inflammation) which can lead to stroke.

Medical conditions and infections also wreak havoc on the gut and it's ability to absorb nutrients. This can result in a deficiency of vitamin B12, even if you are consuming the proper amounts through diet.


Kwok T, Chook P, Qiao M, Tam L, Poon YK, Ahuja AT, Woo J, Celermajer DS, Woo KS., Vitamin B-12 supplementation improves arterial function in vegetarians with subnormal vitamin B-12 status. J Nutr Health Aging. 2012;16(6):569-73.

Robertson J, Iemolo F, Stabler SP, Allen RH, Spence JD. Vitamin B12, homocysteine and carotid plaque in the era of folic acid fortification of enriched cereal grain products. CMAJ. 2005 Jun 7;172(12):1569-73.

Compliments of Functional Medicine University.

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