Scientists from Mount Sinai found that low levels of folate (vitamin B9) in the blood may be linked to a heightened risk of dementia and death from any cause in older people.
Folate is the natural form of vitamin B9, water-soluble, and naturally found in many foods.
It is also added to foods and sold as a supplement in the form of folic acid; this form is actually better absorbed than that from food sources—85% vs. 50%, respectively.
Previous research has found that folate helps to form DNA and RNA and is involved in protein metabolism.
It plays a key role in breaking down homocysteine, an amino acid that can exert harmful effects on the body if it is present in high amounts.
Folate is also needed to produce healthy red blood cells and is critical during periods of rapid growth, such as during pregnancy and fetal development.
However, the association between folate deficiency and the risk of dementia in old age is unclear.
In the current study, researchers aimed to examine the links between folate deficiency and the risks of dementia and death in a large group of older people.
They analyzed data from more than 27,000 people aged 60–75 years.
These people had had no dementia for at least 10 years, and they were tested for folate levels and followed up for dementia or death.
The team found those with folate deficiency had higher risks of dementia and death.
People who were folate deficient were 68% more likely to be diagnosed with dementia and nearly 3 times as likely to die from any cause.
They concluded that folate levels in the body may function as a biomarker to find those at risk of dementia and death.
However, future research is needed to examine how folate deficiency could contribute to dementia.
The team suggests that folate deficiency in older adults should be checked and treated to prevent and reduce their dementia risks.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance for folate is listed as micrograms (mcg) of dietary folate equivalents (DFE). Men and women ages 19 years and older should aim for 400 mcg DFE.
Pregnant and lactating women require 600 mcg DFE and 500 mcg DFE, respectively. People who regularly drink alcohol should aim for at least 600 mcg DFE of folate daily since alcohol can impair its absorption.
The research is published in the journal Evidence-Based Mental Health and was conducted by Anat Rotstein et al.
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