In some ways, vitamins are a lot like people. Because just like with us, some vitamins are the popular type too. Everyone knows their names, and they get lots of attention.
You know the ones I’m talking about.
For example, everyone has heard of nutrients like vitamins D, C, and E. They’re the cool kids on the block. Meanwhile, wallflower vitamins such as vitamin K and most B vitamins seldom get mentioned.
So it might surprise you to learn that one in five older adults is deficient in folate or vitamin B9. And there are likely even more seniors running on the low side of this essential nutrient.
And that’s a problem because vitamin B9 works hand-in-hand with B12 to produce the red blood cells that carry oxygen from your lungs to every other part of your body. Plus, folate is required for the production of DNA (which is why if you’re a mom, you may have heard of it before).
But now scientists say we have another critical reason that we should be sure to keep our levels of B9 topped up… two, in fact. According to the new study, low folate may be linked to higher risks for dementia and death in seniors.
Folate deficiency sent dementia risk soaring
We already knew that folate deficiencies can affect cognition and nerve signaling in our brains. Earlier studies had exposed these relationships and hinted at a potential link to dementia, as well.
But up until now, we had a bit of a chicken or the egg situation. Did low folate contribute to dementia? Or was folate deficiency somehow caused by the condition?
Now we’re reasonably sure it’s the former of the two.
The researchers focused on medical data from 27,188 folks served by a national healthcare provider in Israel to figure it out.
- All of the study participants were between the ages of 60 and 75.
- None of the volunteers had pre-existing dementia for at least 10 years before they began taking regular blood tests to measure folate levels.
The researchers monitored their medical records from 2013 through to the end of 2017. They were looking for any cases of dementia or death among the participants.
A subgroup of 3418 was found to be folate deficient. And that deficiency was linked to a significantly higher risk for dementia and death from any cause.
The scientists also accounted for any outside factors that could have skewed their results. This included determining if the volunteers were smokers or were taking folic acid supplements. As well as if they had other coexisting conditions such as depression, diabetes, cognitive decline, or vitamin B12 deficiency.
And when they were done, the links were still crystal clear. Folks who were folate deficient were 68% more likely to be given a dementia diagnosis. Plus, they were three times more likely to die from any cause.
Bump up sagging B9 to reduce your risks
Now keep in mind this wasn’t a cause-and-effect type study. It was observational. That means we need more research to be done to confirm these findings. But it was also a solid study, and there’s every reason to believe the results.
There are two leading theories of why a folate deficiency could cause this jump in risks. Experts theorize that low B9 might affect homocysteine levels driving up vascular dementia risks. Plus, those same low levels could affect DNA repairs of the neurons, leaving them more vulnerable to oxidative damage.
But don’t worry. It’s not all bad news. First of all, the new study gives us all the push we need to start getting serious about folate.
Ask your doctor about getting your folate levels checked. And discuss keeping an eye on them from now on.
And if you find you ARE running low in B9, don’t panic. It’s a deficiency that’s generally easy to correct.
Supplements are available, of course. But you can also maintain your folate levels (and raise them if they’re low) by eating more leafy green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli, citrus fruits, eggs, beans, bananas, organ meats, poultry, shellfish, and mushrooms.
For more on the link between B vitamins and cognitive decline, see my earlier report here.
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