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    Folic Acid May Reduce Age-Related Memory Problems

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    WebMD Health News

    April 27, 2001 -- The inevitable memory problems that accompany old age may not be so inevitable after all. New research suggests that high levels of an amino acid that has been linked to heart disease and stroke may be partially responsible for age-related memory loss.

    If these and other findings are confirmed, simple vitamin therapy aimed at reducing levels of the amino acid homocysteine in the blood may prove effective in reducing the risk of numerous age-related diseases and maladies, experts say.

    "I predict that in five years, testing homocysteine levels may be as common as testing cholesterol," Donald Jacobsen, PhD, director of the Laboratory for Homocysteine Research at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, tells WebMD. "We have known about homocysteine's cardiovascular connection for at least 10 years, and studies in the last year or so suggest it plays a role in Alzheimer's disease. You could say homocysteine is an emerging risk factor for [thinking] impairment."s testing cholesterol," Donald Jacobsen, PhD, director of the Laboratory for Homocysteine Research at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, tells WebMD. "We have known about homocysteine's cardiovascular connection for at least 10 years, and studies in the last year or so suggest it plays a role in Alzheimer's disease. You could say homocysteine is an emerging risk factor for [thinking] impairment."

    Reporting in the May issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers from Boston's Tufts University found that high circulating levels of homocysteine were related to short-term memory problems in a group of men and women over the age of 60 who were tested for [thinking] performance. All of those tested were participating in the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, designed to track the health and nutritional status of Americans.

    High homocysteine levels were independently associated with poor performance on the memory tests, as were low levels of the vitamin folic acid. Folic acid, or folate, has been shown to significantly lower homocysteine levels.

    "The message here is that folate status is important, but I don't think this means people need to be taking folate supplements," study author Martha Savaria Morris, PhD, of Tuft's Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center of Aging, tells WebMD. "Ever since the late 1990s, our food supply has been fortified with folate. People are getting it in the grains they eat, and that is likely to be enough to get the benefits."

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