Older people with low levels of vitamin B9 have a higher risk of dementia, a study suggests. Having low levels of the vitamin, also known as folate, has also been linked to premature death.
Academics from the US and Israel said that folate levels should be routinely monitored among older adults and deficiencies should be corrected. Folate helps the body make healthy red blood cells and is found in certain foods.
The study, published in the journal Evidence Based Mental Health, examined data on more than 27,000 people aged 60 to 75 from Israel. The group, none of whom had a dementia diagnosis before the start of the study, gave samples to determine whether or not they had a folate deficiency.
They were tracked between January 2013 and October 2017 to see if they went on to get a diagnosis of dementia or died. Some 3,418 participants were folate deficient.
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The researchers found that folate deficiency was associated with a substantially heightened risk of both dementia and death from any cause. People with folate deficiency had a 1.68-fold increased risk of dementia and a 2.98-fold increased risk of dying during the follow-up period.
The authors wrote: “Serum concentrations of folate may function as a biomarker used to modify the risks of dementia and mortality in old age. The implications for public health policy appear to be to reliably monitor serum concentrations of folate in older adults and treat deficiency for preventative measures and/or as part of implemented therapeutic strategies while regularly reviewing patients’ clinical outcomes.”
Pregnant women are already advised to take a supplement of the man-made version of folate – folic acid. This is to help their developing baby’s brain, skull and spinal cord develop properly to avoid development problems called neural tube defects, such as spina bifida.
In September last year, governments across the UK announced that folic acid will be added to non-wholemeal wheat flour across the UK to help prevent spinal conditions in babies. Ministers estimated that adding folic acid will mean foods made with flour, such as bread, will actively help avoid around 200 neural tube defects each year.
But the new research suggests the policy may reap wider benefits. Most adults and children can take folic acid but it is not suitable for everyone.
People with certain conditions including cancer, vitamin B12 deficiency, those on kidney dialysis and people with a heart stent are advised to check with their doctor before taking the supplement.