Study: Folic Acid May Aid Seniors' Memory
Researchers say supplements improved performance on mental tests
WebMD News Archive
June 22, 2005 -- Older adults may get mental benefits -- including better
memory -- by taking folic acid supplements, say Dutch researchers.
Researchers compared test scores after three years of folic acid supplements
to results after a placebo supplement in 818 older adults. Test scores showed
memory improvements in the folic acid group. This group also had a slower
decline in scores of other mental skills and muscle speed skills.
Folic acid -- also called folate -- is a B vitamin. It's found in leafy
green vegetables such as spinach. In the U.S., folic acid is also added to
enriched grain products such as flour, breads, cereals, and pasta.
Better Memory, Slower Mental Decline
How big were the differences in test scores? Here's a look at the folic acid
group's test results after three years:
- Memory scores were that of someone five-and-one-half years younger.
- Scores on muscle skills were that of someone two years younger.
- Scores on an information-processing test were that of someone two years
Folic acid didn't make a difference on word-fluency tests, say the
researchers. They included Jane Durga of Wageningen University in the
The results were presented at the Alzheimer's Association International
Conference on Dementia Prevention.
About the Study
Participants were 50-70 years old. They took the supplement or a placebo for
The folic acid dose was 800 international units per day. That's double the
amount recommended for women of childbearing age to help avoid birth defects in
While none of the participants had low folate levels, they did have high
homocysteine levels, an inflammatory marker linked to heart disease. Previous
research suggests that high levels are linked with mental declines associated
with Alzheimer's disease in elderly people.
High homocysteine levels have been associated with poor mental function and
stroke risk. Another study found that high levels of homocysteine in the blood
were a strong indicator of stroke risk.
Certain conditions can lower the body's folate levels, including alcoholism,
pregnancy, and cancer. When there is folate deficiency, blood levels of
homocyteine may increase.
'Low' Health Risks for Most People
The risk of health problems from folic acid supplements is "low,"
says a folic acid fact sheet from the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS).
Excess folic acid usually leaves the body in urine, says the ODS, which is part
of the National Institutes of Health.
However, there is some evidence that high levels of folic acid can provoke
seizures in patients taking anticonvulsant medications, says the ODS.
Anyone taking such medications should consult a medical doctor before taking
a folic acid supplement, says the ODS.