Tags: Vitamin | Deficiency | Linked | Alzheimer's

Vitamin Deficiency Linked to Alzheimer's

Tuesday, 08 May 2001 12:00 AM

Some scientists believe a deficiency of vitamin B-12 and folate increases the body levels of the amino acid homocysteine, a toxic substance that also plays a role in strokes. This higher level of homocysteine may lead to brain cell death and possibly trigger Alzheimer's, the study said.

The researchers looked at a random sample of 370 people age 75 and older who did not take vitamin B-12 or folate supplements. During the three-year study period, 78 people developed some form of dementia and 46 of them showed significant shortages of vitamins B-12 and folate.

"In our study, we found that low levels of either of these two vitamins were related to an increased Alzheimer's disease risk," said researcher Hui-Xin Wang of the Karolinska Institute's Stockholm Gerontology Research Center. "Monitoring B-12 and folate levels is important in order to avoid unfavorable conditions, even for those elderly people who are quite healthy in terms of cognition."

Some prior research, however, have failed to find any relationship between Alzheimer's and B-12 and folate. "What is different about our study is that it is a longitudinal population-based study, which is a more appropriate way to verify the studied associations," said Wang.

In previous published studies, the benefits of B-12 supplementation on cognition were mostly in patients with either a short period of cognitive impairment or with mild dementia. "This is in line with our finding that the risk effect of low B-12 levels is more predominant in the subgroup of elderly patients with good baseline cognitive functioning," said Wang.

At University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, researchers are currently investigating the effects doses of B-12 and folic acid might have on homocysteine levels in patients already diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Dr. Myron Weiner, a professor of psychiatry at the school, told United Press International it isn't yet known whether these vitamins can minimize the damage Alzheimer's ravages on the brain or whether it may offer protection to people who do not have the disease.

"As the segment of the population over 65 increases, that of course is going to lead to a (larger) number of people with Alzheimer's," said Weiner, adding that finding a treatment to buffer people against the disease or reduce its effects is crucial.

Currently, four million Americans have Alzheimer's and that figure is expected to double by 2050, according to Dr. Joy Snider, a neurologist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

While little is known about the diet's role in Alzheimer's risk, taking antioxidant supplements such as B-12 and folic acid may offer some protection against dangerous levels of homocysteine, Snider said. Foods that naturally contain B-12 include fish, milk and other dairy products, eggs, meat and poultry.

Folate can be found in fortified cereals and other grain products, leafy vegetables such as spinach, turnip greens, and also in beans and peas. Scientists also know there can be a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer's, and there is some emerging evidence on lifestyle contributing to increased risk of the disease, said Snider.

Several studies have found people with extensive education backgrounds, are less likely to develop Alzheimer's at an earlier age, said Snider. Elderly people who continue to mentally challenge themselves throughout life, such as taking up a new sport or hobby or studying a new language, for example, are also less likely to develop the disease.

Other Alzheimer's researchers were critical of the Swedish study because the number of patients was relatively small and the differences in outcome between those with low levels of the two vitamins and those with normal levels, while statistically significant, was not dramatic.

"Some people with normal levels of these vitamins got dementia and some with low levels did not," said Dr. Peter Davies, an authority on Alzheimer's disease at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, N.Y. "Perhaps in identifying a group of people with low B-12 levels, they were identifying people who are unhealthy in other more significant ways."

Allan Butterfield, professor of chemistry at the University of Kentucky at Lexington, said further studies were needed to be certain the changes in cognitive performance are directly linked to B-12 and folate levels.

"One might take animals devoid of B-12 or folate in their diet and test the animal brain against various risk factors in Alzheimer's disease," said Butterfield. He suggests, for instance, assessing in such animals the amount of amyloid beta-peptide in the brain, a substance which, in excess, is believed to play a causative role in the disease.

"Current therapies for Alzheimer's disease invariably are only symptomatic treatments that do not persist," Butterfield said of the need for further research. "There really is no truly effective therapy."

Copyright 2001 by United Press International.

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Some scientists believe a deficiency of vitamin B-12 and folate increases the body levels of the amino acid homocysteine, a toxic substance that also plays a role in strokes. This higher level of homocysteine may lead to brain cell death and possibly trigger Alzheimer's,...
Tuesday, 08 May 2001 12:00 AM
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