September 25, 2005
Folic Acid Slows Cognitive Decline With Age

To protect your brain from the slings and arrows of aging eat high folic acid foods such as greens and beans.

According to a recent report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, folate, a B vitamin found in foods like leafy green vegetables and citrus fruit, may protect against cognitive decline in older adults. The research was conducted by scientists at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University.

A team led by Katherine L. Tucker, PhD, director and professor of the Nutritional Epidemiology Program at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts, studied a group of Boston-area men who were members of the ongoing Normative Aging Study (NAS). Tucker and her colleagues found that men who obtained more folate in their diets showed significantly less of a decline in verbal fluency skills over the course of three years than did men with lower dietary folate intake.

High folate levels, both in the diet and in the blood, also appeared to be protective against declines in another category of cognitive skills known as spatial copying. To test this, the 50- to 85-year-old study participants were asked to copy various shapes and figures, and their drawings were assessed for accuracy. "The men took a series of cognitive tests at the beginning of the study period and then repeated those tests three years later," explained Tucker. "We compared their first and second scores, reviewed their responses to dietary questionnaires, and took blood samples in order to see if nutrient levels in the diet and the blood were related to changes in cognitive performance."

In an earlier study with the same NAS group, which corroborated the findings of other investigators, the Tufts research team observed that high homocysteine--a known blood marker of cardiovascular disease risk--was associated with lower cognitive test scores.

Since folate supplementation can help reduce blood levels of homocysteine, it was thought that this might explain folate's beneficial effects. However, in the current study, the effects of folate were independent of its impact on homocysteine, which turned out to be more strongly associated with tests of memory.

"Unlike our prior work with this population, in which we observed an association between low folate levels and lower cognitive test scores at one point in time, this study looks at the effects of these nutrients over time." Tucker says, "That is an important step in establishing causality."

So low folic acid (a.k.a. folate) causes faster general cognitive decline but high homocysteine causes faster memory decline. Well, vitamins B-12 and B-6 also help keep down homocysteine. A lot of old people have a diminished capacity to absorb B-12. and some even need periodic B-12 shots. High homocysteine is also strongly suspected as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

The journal article for this report:

Tucker KL, Qiao N, Scott T, Rosenberg I, Spiro A, III. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2005; 82: 627. "High homocysteine and low B vitamins predict cognitive decline in aging men: the Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study."

Share |      Randall Parker, 2005 September 25 01:49 PM  Aging Diet Brain Studies

Marvin said at September 26, 2005 2:44 PM:

You should mention that TMG, Trimethylglycine, acts as a methyl donor to convert homocysteine to methionine and SAMe. B6, B12, Folate, TMG, and sometimes Choline, are all used to reduce homocysteine, depending on the blood level and how resistant it is to reduction.

Brett Bellmore said at September 26, 2005 5:43 PM:

Thanks for the heads up on that, Marvin: I'm currently using SAME for my arthritis, and if TMG has some of the same effects, it could save me quite a bit of money. That SAME isn't exactly cheap!

zerowave said at September 26, 2005 10:53 PM:

or maybe people who happen to have better mental acuity, simply eat better.

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