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Folate May Fortify the Mature Mind

Folate May Fortify the Mature Mind: Main Image
Low folate levels increased the risk of cognitive impairment by almost two and a half times in men
Low folate—the dietary source of folic acid—levels may lead to decline in thinking (cognitive) abilities in seniors, according to a study in the Journal of Aging and Health.

B is for brain health

Many of the B-complex vitamins have a role in brain and nervous system health, so deficiencies can cause neurological problems. Low levels of two of these vitamins—vitamin B12 and folate—can cause a type of anemia. Severe vitamin B12–deficiency can lead to tingling of the hands and feet as well as mood changes, depression, and alterations in cognition. Low folate levels can cause typical symptoms of anemia, including fatigue and headache.

Low levels tied to cognitive decline

The study investigated the relationship between blood levels of folate and vitamin B12 and cognitive function in 593 Greek people 65 years and older. The researchers also looked at educational level, depression, and social activity as they related to cognitive impairment risk. Here’s what they found:

  • Higher educational level seemed to protect cognition in both men and women.
  • In women, older age increased the risk of cognitive impairment.
  • In men, depression increased the risk of cognitive impairment but social interaction protected against cognitive decline. Low folate levels increased the risk of cognitive impairment by almost two and a half times in men.
  • Low B12 levels weren’t associated with impaired cognitive function in either sex.

To gain some perspective on their results, the researchers also analyzed 23 studies including information from almost 18,000 people that investigated the connection between low vitamin B12 and folate levels and the risk of cognitive impairment.

  • Low folate levels were associated with a significantly higher risk of cognitive impairment in both sexes.
  • Low B12 levels were not linked to cognitive impairment in either sex.

"This large meta-analysis confirms an adverse effect of low serum folate levels on cognitive function among elderly individuals of both genders,” the researchers concluded, also pointing out “the need to further explore the potential protective role of extrinsic factors, such as social environment, in preserving cognition and increasing quality of life among seniors.”

Keep your brain young

Many of the changes that we’ve come to associate with “normal” aging may be not be inevitable. Give these tips a try to keep your brain healthy as you age:

  • Blueberries and other dark-skinned fruits and berries are high in antioxidant compounds called polyphenols. People who eat these foods regularly are less likely to develop conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease later in life.
  • Nuts, seeds, and olive oil are naturally rich sources of monounsaturated fats that may help preserve cognitive function.
  • Gingko, 120 to 160 mg per day, may be a safe and effective way to improve cognitive function in seniors, though research is inconclusive.

(J Aging Health 2013; DOI:10.1177/0898264313482488 jah.sagepub.com)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her doctoral degree from Bastyr University, the nation’s premier academic institution for science-based natural medicine. She co-founded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI, where she practiced whole family care with an emphasis on nutritional counseling, herbal medicine, detoxification, and food allergy identification and treatment. Her blog, Eat Happy, helps take the drama out of healthy eating with real food recipes and nutrition news that you can use. Dr. Beauchamp is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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