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Posted: February 12, 2008

Lack of Key B Vitamin May Triple Alzheimer's Risk: Research

Older adults with low levels of a key B vitamin were found in new research to have more than tripled their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias than those with higher levels of the nutrient commonly found in fresh vegetables and fruits.
However, researchers said they remained uncertain whether the lack of folate -- the B vitamin component also known as B9 -- circulating in a person‘s bloodstream actually contributes to the onset of dementia, including Alzheimer’s, or is a result of physical changes that occur through memory loss.
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The findings, announced by Jin-Sang Yoon, a psychiatric researcher at Chonnam National University Medical School in Kwangju, South Korea, is reported in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, which is published by the British Medical Association.
"Attention needs to be paid to the nutritional status of people with dementia from the time of diagnosis onwards, regardless of whether this is a cause or effect of the condition," Yoon said, in urging the ongoing monitoring of folate levels in the aging population.
Yoon and colleagues tracked 518 people – all of them living in urban or rural areas of South Korea -- over age 65 for 2.4 years. During the study, researchers tested the blood levels of all participants for folate, vitamin B12 and the amino acid homocysteine.
During the test period, 45 of the 518 test subjects developed dementia, most often Alzheimer’s, but also including vascular dementia, Yoon said. At the start of the two-year period, 20% of participants had high homocysteine levels, while 17% had low vitamin B12 levels and 3.5% were deficient in folate.
At the end of the test, researchers found that seniors who had low folate levels when the study began were 3.2 times more likely to develop dementia, while those with low levels of vitamin B12 had a much lower risk, only about 60%.
The B9 vitamin compound occurs naturally in leafy green vegetables such as spinach, asparagus, broccoli, turnip greens, and lettuces, as well as in dried beans and peas and in certain citrus fruits. It is sometimes added to products like bread or breakfast cereals in the form of folic acid.
This latest finding follows a study published last year in The Lancet that reported an improvement in short-term memory, mental agility and verbal fluency among people over age 50 who took a daily dose of 800 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid. That’s double the U.S. recommended daily dose of 400 mcg.

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