Folic Acid Supplements Could Prevent Dementia
Folic acid supplementation could effectively prevent dementia in some people, recent research suggests.
The possibility that low folic acid is a modifiable risk factor for dementia has been extensively studied. Dementia is linked to the natural age-related decline in information processing speed and memory, and data suggests that low folic acid levels are linked to this process. This new evidence supports a protective effect of supplementary folic acid, even indicating that it can improve cognitive function.
A team led by Dr. Jane Durga of Wageningen University and Wageningen Center for Food Sciences, the Netherlands examined this possible link among men and women enrolled in a trial focusing on folic acid and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), called the Folic Acid and Carotid Intima-media Thickness (FACIT) trial.
The team gave 818 adults ages 50 through 70 either 800 micrograms of folic acid or a placebo every day for three years. At the start of the experiment, all the participants all had raised levels of homocysteine, indicating that they had low folic acid levels in the blood. Both groups were tested on memory, movement speed, information processing speed, and word fluency.
In the medical journal The Lancet, the researchers reported that the participants given folic acid showed significantly better changes on the cognitive tests than the placebo group. They suggest that folic acid might simultaneously affect memory and speed, because high levels of homocysteine are linked to damage to the hippocampus the area of the brain important for memory formation.
“[Our study was conducted] in older adults with raised total homocysteine concentrations,” the researchers pointed out. “Trials similar to our own should be repeated in other populations to provide greater insight into the clinical relevance of folic acid supplementation, such as in populations with mild cognitive impairment and dementia.”
In a commentary, Dr. Martha C. Morris and Dr. Christy C. Tangney from Rush University, Illinois, agree with the need for further trials, and ask why folic acid intakes are often so low.
It may be because 50 to 95 percent of folate content in food is estimated to be lost in storage, preparation, or manufacturing processes, according to the two doctors. The best sources of folate are yeast, organ meats (e.g., liver), green leafy vegetables (e.g., spinach), legumes, beans, and some fruits.