New York: A folate study has revealed that the vitamin can slow the cognitive decline of ageing.
The research, presented at the recent US Alzheimer’s Associations first conference on prevention of dementia, demonstrated that otherwise healthy people could slow the decline in their brain function by taking double the recommended daily dose of folate.
Scientists found that men and women 50-75 years old who took 800mcg of folate a day over three years scored significantly better in cognitive tests than peers taking a placebo. On memory tests, the supplement users had scores comparable to people 5.5 years younger, said the researchers from Wageningen University in the Netherlands.
“It’s the first study to convincingly show that [folate] can slow cognitive decline,” said lead author Jane Durga. The study involved healthy older people, not those with Alzheimer’s symptoms, so it doesn’t show if folate might ward off that disease. “That’s the key question,” Durga said.
Previous research has suggested that folate along with other B vitamins can reduce levels of homocysteine, an amino acid thought to play a role in the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
The current study involved 818 middle-age adults who had elevated levels of homocysteine at baseline. They were randomized to receive either folate or a placebo for three years. Blood folate levels for those in the supplement group increased five-fold and plasma total homocysteine concentrations decreased by around 25 per cent by the end of the study.
“I think I would take [folate], assuming my doctor said it was OK,” said Johns Hopkins University neuroscientist Marilyn Albert, who chairs the Alzheimer’s Association’s science advisory council.
“We know Alzheimer’s disease, the pathology, begins many, many years before the symptoms. We ought to be thinking about the health of our brain the same way we think about the health of our heart,” she added.
Folate is found in such foods as oranges and strawberries, dark green leafy vegetables and beans. In the United States, it also is added to cereal and flour products.
Durga said it’s not clear how folate might work to protect the brain. Some studies suggest folate lowers inflammation; others suggest it may play a role in expression of dementia-related genes.
There is research now suggesting ways to protect the brain against age-related memory loss and Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Association has begun offering classes to teach people the techniques. Topping the list:
* Exercise your brain. Using it in unusual ways increases blood flow and helps the brain wire new connections. That’s important to build up what’s called cognitive reserve, an ability to adapt to or withstand the damage of Alzheimer’s a little longer.
* In youth, that means good education. Later in life, do puzzles, learn to play chess, take classes.
* Stay socially stimulated. Declining social interaction with age predicts declining cognitive function.
* Exercise your body. Bad memory is linked to heart disease and diabetes because clogged arteries slow blood flow in the brain.
* Experts recommend going for the triple-whammy of something mentally, physically and socially stimulating all at once: Coach your child’s ball team. Take a dance class. Strategize a round of golf.
* Diet’s also important. While Alzheimer’s researchers have long recommended a heart-healthy diet as good for the brain, the folate study is the first to test the advice directly.
The recommended daily dose of folate in the USA is 400 micrograms; doctors advise women of childbearing age to take a supplement to ensure they get that much.
The research findings add to mounting evidence that a diet higher in folate is important for a variety of diseases. Scientists have long thought that folate might play a role in dementia, and previous studies have shown people with low folate levels are more at risk for both heart disease and diminished cognitive function.
For more information: www.hsfolate.com