Vegatarians at higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease

(It’s the b’s….)

Elderly people with low blood levels of vitamin B-12 and folate may face an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Vitamin B-12 plays an important role in maintaining nerve cells, and some research has linked low blood levels of the vitamin to Alzheimer’s and mental decline. Few studies have looked at whether there is such a connection between Alzheimer’s and folate, a B vitamin key to the production and maintenance of body cells.

In a study of 370 men and women aged 75 and older, investigators found that those with low levels of either vitamin were twice as likely as those with normal levels to develop Alzheimer’s over a 3-year period. Surprisingly, the link was even stronger among study participants who performed well on mental tests at the start of the study.

The reason for the link is unclear, but low blood levels of B-12 and folate can lead to elevations in the amino acid homocysteine, which may in turn damage nerve cells, the authors note.

Vitamin B-12 is found in animal products, including

  • meat
  • fish
  • eggs
  • milk

Vegetarians are frequently deficient in vitamin B-12.

Folate occurs naturally in foods such as

  • leafy green vegetables
  • dried beans and peas
  • citrus fruits

many cereals are fortified with folic acid, the synthetic form of folate.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, affecting an estimated 4 million Americans. The exact cause remains elusive, but scientists believe genetics and environmental factors conspire to trigger the onset of the disease.

Neurology May 8, 2001;56:1188-1194

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