Study shows connection between vitamin deficiency and dementia

Folate plays key role in cell growth, function

Folate, also known as vitamin B9 or folic acid, has been linked to a number of positive health benefits, and a folate deficiency may be connected to dementia.

If you’ve had a baby in recent years, you’ve probably heard about the importance of folate or folic acid when it comes to good health.

The vitamin is essential before and during pregnancy to reduce the risk of birth defects, such as spina bifida. But, new research suggests that folate may also play a critical role throughout our life -- especially when it comes to our brain.

Folate is known as vitamin B9, or “folic acid” when in supplement form or when it’s added to food.

Researchers in the U.S. and in Israel studied more than 27,000 people between the ages of 60 and 75 years old. They found that those with a folate deficiency had a 68% higher risk of being diagnosed with dementia. They also had three times the risk of dying from any cause.

It is thought that being deficient in folate may impair cognitive function and nerve signaling in the brain.

Researchers note that they couldn’t rule out that the dementia may have been causing the drop instead of vice versa. However, folate is already known to play a key role in forming red blood cells and helping our cells grow and function properly. Doctors can measure your folate levels using a blood test.

Foods naturally rich in folate include leafy green vegetables -- such as spinach and broccoli -- as well as asparagus, peas, nuts, eggs, beans and legumes, citrus fruits and cereals fortified with folic acid.

It’s important to note that our bodies can’t store folate in large amounts, so it’s impossible to build up a supply. This means that our blood levels can fall after only a few weeks of not getting enough of the vitamin.

The bottom line is that people need to eat foods rich in folate or folic acid on a regular basis to maintain those healthy levels. If you’re folate deficient, talk to your doctor about healthy ways to boost your levels.

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About the Author:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.